Few things are as frustrating as a central air conditioner that freezes up in the middle of a heat wave. If you are like many homeowners, you may be living with an air conditioner that freezes repeatedly after normal use, but it doesn't have to be this way. Here are a few simple steps you can take when your air conditioner freezes that can help it run better in the future.
Inspect the Evaporator Coils
As soon as you notice that your air conditioner is not producing cool air like it should, you should turn it off at the thermostat. The longer your air conditioner runs after it has frozen, the more ice will accumulate and the longer it will take to thaw. After you have shut off the air, remove the furnace cover so that you can inspect the evaporator coils above the furnace.
The evaporator coils are installed in an A-frame configuration above your furnace, with a drain pan beneath them. When your central air is freezing up, you will see a thick accumulation of ice on the evaporator coils. You should not attempt to scrape the ice off the coils manually, as this can damage them.
Run Your System Without the Condenser
You can help the evaporator coils thaw faster by running your central air system without the condenser. To do this, you will need to locate and shut off the double breaker that sends power to the condenser. The double breaker is typically installed near the condenser unit, inside a metal box on the outside of your home.
After you have shut off the double breaker, set the thermostat to the fan only setting. This will allow the blower motor in your furnace to blow ambient temperature air over the coils to defrost them. If there is significant ice buildup on the coils, you will need to check the drain pan regularly for overflow. If the drain pan is getting close to overflowing, use a heavy towel to soak up some of the water to prevent water damage to the surrounding area.
Check for Airflow Restrictions
Airflow restriction is one of the most common causes of a freezing central air conditioner. The coils need adequate airflow from the warm air inside your home to keep them from reaching freezing temperature. Without warm airflow, the condensation on the coils freezes before it can reach the drain pan.
The easiest way you can improve airflow to your evaporator coils is to clean or replace the furnace filter. The furnace draws the most warm air into the system through this filter, but it will not be able to do so if the filter is clogged. Getting into the habit of inspecting the filter at least once a month can prevent many air conditioner freezes in the future.
If the furnace filter is clean, the next most likely location of a blockage is in your return vent or ductwork. Central air conditioners have return ducts that draw in warm air from your home to be cooled and recirculated. The return vents will collect dust and debris over time that can turn into a major blockage for your central air system. Wipe down the return vents in your home to remove dust buildup, and use a vacuum hose to carefully clean as much of the return ducts as you can reach. You may also consider a professional duct cleaning to remove all potential blockages in the ductwork in your home.
Taking these simple steps to thaw your central air conditioner and remove airflow restrictions can reduce how frequently your system freezes up. Keep these tips in mind so that your summers are always as cool and comfortable as possible.
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