Does it feel like your air conditioner isn’t cooling your home as effectively as it used to? Have you been hit by astronomical energy bills this summer? These are two strong indicators that your central air conditioning system is losing efficiency, which also means that it’s losing its “cooling power.”
There are multiple reasons why an air conditioner’s performance can go downhill, which we’ll explain below. Once you identify which of these issues your system has, the solution should be relatively straightforward.
1. The air filter needs to be cleaned or replaced.
If you use your air conditioner a lot, the air filter can get dirty much faster than expected. Even though you can use many filters for up to 90 days, you should always check on them frequently to make sure they aren’t blanketed in dust.
Too much dust on the air filter will restrict airflow into your air conditioning system, limiting the system’s ability to work efficiently. Too little airflow can even cause the equipment to overheat and break down!
2. The evaporator coil is grimy and dusty.
The evaporator coil is inside your AC’s indoor unit. Refrigerant makes the metal coil extremely cold, and when your system blows warm air from your home across it, the coil absorbs the heat and draws out the moisture.
Problems arise when your evaporator coil gets dusty. If grime coats the metal, the coil will have a harder time absorbing heat from the air blowing over it. This means that your AC system will start providing air that is warmer than the refreshingly cold air you’ve been used to. To fix this issue, a technician will need to clean the evaporator coil, which is a task they’d typically performed during routine maintenance.
3. The condenser coil is caked with dirt and debris.
The condenser coil is located in your AC’s outdoor unit (the condenser). Your AC’s indoor unit absorbs heat from inside your home, and refrigerant carries that heat to the outdoor unit, where the condenser coil releases it into the surrounding air.
If dirt coats the condenser coil, or if plants have crowded in too close around it, the unit will struggle to release heat. This will make your AC system less efficient and less effective at cooling your home. An AC technician can clean and inspect the condenser to get it running like new once again.
4. Your system has a refrigerant leak.
As mentioned above, refrigerant plays a vital role in absorbing heat from your home. If your system has an insufficient level of refrigerant (due to a leak), it’s going to struggle to cool your home and may have to run continuously. “Topping off” your refrigerant is not going to solve the issue, and doing so can expose the environment to toxic chemicals. A technician will need to repair the leak itself before recharging your system with refrigerant.
5. Your air ducts have leaks.
In some cases, your air conditioner may be functioning correctly, but the system’s ductwork is the real culprit. Tears or gaps can form in the ducts, and even some pests, like rats and mice, can chew through the metal. Leaks can also develop if you close vents to try to redirect air to different rooms. Doing this creates an air pressure imbalance in your system, which can force open weak points in your ductwork.
An HVAC specialist can inspect your ductwork and use technology to detect air leaks. Based on the ducts’ condition, the specialist can show you whether this part of your system should be sealed or replaced.
6. Your system is nearing its retirement.
Air conditioning units last around 10 to 15 years on average (although with routine maintenance, a high-quality unit can last years longer). If your unit is approaching “retirement age,” you’ll likely see a decrease in its performance.
At that point, if your air conditioner needs an expensive repair, it often makes more sense to invest that money in a new unit and lower energy bills instead. According to the Department of Energy, even if your current AC is only 10 years old, you can save 20% to 40% of your cooling costs by upgrading to a newer, more energy-efficient model.