A variety of technical problems can prevent an air conditioner from functioning properly.

How to Know if Your Air Conditioner Is Broken

by Bill Reynolds

It’s a hot summer day. Your clothes feel like they’re painted onto your skin. You walk toward your air-conditioned living room expecting a welcome rush of cool air -- only to find that the air in your living room is only marginally cooler than the air in the rest of the house. This could be a sign that your window air-conditioning unit is malfunctioning. But before you go running for the hardware store -- wallet in hand -- you might want to cool down and do some simple air-conditioner troubleshooting. It could save you a bunch of money.

1. Test for Cool Air Flow

The easiest way to see if your wall/window air-conditioning unit is functioning properly is to check the coolness of the air flow. This can be done quite simply, without the need for any special tools or expertise. Turn your machine off for a sufficient amount of time to let the room temperature naturally rise; the contrast will make it easier for you to later gauge whether or not the air coming out of your air conditioner is as cool as it should be. When you’re ready, activate your AC unit at its highest fan-speed. Some units will allow you to choose -- via knob or dial -- how cold you wish the air flow to be. Choose the coldest setting. Now all you have to do is let the air rush over your hands. If you can’t detect a definite chill, then you may have a malfunctioning compressor or low Freon levels.

2. Clean or Replace your Air Filters

If you determined your air-conditioning unit is not functioning up to par, don’t panic. The problem might be no more serious than a clogged air filter. If your filter is overloaded with dirt and dust, your air conditioner won’t function at its highest capacity. Replacing a dirty filter with a clean one can boost your machine’s energy efficiency by as much as 15 percent, according to the US Department of Energy. Fortunately, it’s usually a cinch to check your air filter. Most wall and window air-conditioning units are designed to allow for easy filter replacement. After consulting with your machine’s user manual, carefully take out and inspect your unit’s filter. If the filter is covered in a dark, thin later of dirt and grime, it’ll need to be thoroughly cleaned out with water or replaced. If your filter is clean but your machine still fails to produce cool air, this could be a sign of a more serious issue with your air conditioner.

3. Check the Power

Perhaps the problem is that your air conditioner won’t turn on at all. This can be a sign that your unit is suffering from some sort of electronic malfunction, but it can also be a symptom of a more basic problem: there’s no power going to your unit in the first place. air-conditioning wall units receive their power from standard wall outlets. Carefully check to see if the plug is secure in the outlet. Sometimes the metal connections in a wall outlet can be dirty and/or loose; a soft jiggle of the plug can sometimes make all the difference. Make sure not to touch the outlet itself. Next, test the outlet by plugging in a different electronic device, such as a basic table lamp. If the second device functions properly where the air conditioner did not, you likely have an electronic failure inside your air-conditioning unit. Otherwise, the problem resides in your house’s electricity grid. Check your circuit breakers.

4. Call an Air-Conditioner Technician

If your window air conditioner blows cool air despite a cool filter, or if it refused to function despite a live power source, the machine may be in need of professional maintenance. Common air-conditioner malfunctions are associated with Freon leaks, blown capacitors, and/or broken compressors, all of which would best be handled by a trained professional. If your troubleshooting session fails to shed light on the problem, a professional diagnosis is your best way to know if your machine is broken. Depending on your warranty, you may have access to free maintenance. But even if you end up having to pay to have one or all of these components replaced, it may very well cost you less than purchasing a brand new air-conditioning unit.

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