Things to Do When Your AC Goes Out | Emergency or Quick Fix?

January 8, 2021

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Every homeowner should have a list of things to do when the AC goes out, so you can get that appliance running again quickly or know if it’s time to call the pros. It’s also helpful for homeowners to learn how to avoid AC damage so your home’s air conditioner operates as it should throughout the year and lasts as long as possible before it needs replacing.

It’s also vital to note that you should schedule professional repairs for anything outside your area of expertise, as poor-quality repairs can lead to even costlier fixes. You can also waste quite a bit of money “repairing” or replacing parts that aren’t actually broken! A professional AC contractor near you will ensure proper, timely repairs so your home is cool and comfortable once again.

homeowner without central air conditioning

What Do I Do If My Air Conditioner Goes Out?

Since an air conditioner might go out for a number of reasons, there is no “one size fits all” list of things to do when your AC goes out. Note a few things you might try to get it running again, starting with the basics:

  • Check the home’s circuit breaker panel and note if a circuit is tripped. If you’ve never had to check circuits before, note that all those switches should be turned inward, to the center of the panel; if a switch is facing in the opposite direction, or to the outside of the panel, turn it inward and see if this restarts the air conditioner.
  • Check the home’s thermostat. If you have a digital thermostat and there are no numbers or other indicators on its face, it might simply need new batteries! It might also be flashing a warning sign that batteries are too low for it to operate; if you see the word “LOW” or something similar on its panel, try changing the batteries.
  • If new batteries get your digital thermostat working again, try adjusting it to a cooler temperature. If this causes the AC to cycle on, let it run for a moment and then adjust the temperature accordingly.
  • If you still have a dial thermostat, turn the temperature down a few degrees. That thermostat might simply be overly sensitive or not sensitive enough to read ambient or air temperatures properly, and not signaling the air conditioner to cycle on.
  • Most central air conditioners will have at least one if not two added circuit breakers or disconnect switches, usually behind a small box attached to an exterior wall above the compressor housing and also in the garage or attic. If you find a breaker outside your house or elsewhere, note if it’s in the off position, or just try flipping it back and forth once or twice, to test if it’s been tripped.
  • An air conditioner might shut down if there is something stuck around the blower. Turn the circuit to the AC off to avoid the risk of electrical shock, and then open the top of the compressor unit. Note if you can see any random or loose objects, including pests! Remove those objects and try giving those fan blades a spin manually, and then close the top and switch the circuit back on, and note if the appliance cycles on as well.
  • Many modern AC units work with what is called direct-drive motors so that they don’t need belts; however, some units will have a belt between the blower and motor. With the top of the unit open, note if you find a snapped or damaged belt inside that housing; if so, it will need replacing for the unit to operate!
  • Check around that outside unit for ice or frost. This often indicates low refrigerant, which allows pressure to drop and air to frost up as it circulates around the unit, shutting it down. Let the ice melt and note if the unit cycles on again.
  • The AC unit vents heat outside those grilles or fins. If there are twigs, leaves, and grass clippings collecting around the compressor unit, or if you have a covering for it too close to the unit, it might then overheat and shut off. Clean off that debris, let the unit cool down, and see if it then cycles on.
  • Air from the AC gets pushed through the furnace filter before it’s circulated through the home. If the furnace filter is especially dirty, it might block that airflow and shut down the unit. Check the filter for excess dirt, or just replace it, and note if that gets the AC working again.

What Would Cause the AC to Stop Working?

Consider some added reasons why your AC might stop working. You can then decide the best things to do when the AC goes out and when to call a professional!

  • Most air conditioner units cycle on by what are called capacitors, which look like large batteries inside the compressor unit. One capacitor cycles the unit on and the other keeps it running. If you notice corrosion around these capacitors, call an AC repair contractor to have them replaced.
  • As with any appliance, the motor to an AC can simply wear out over time. If your home’s air conditioner is more than five years old and nothing else gets it working, an AC repair contractor should test the motor for needed replacing.
  • If ice forms around the outdoor unit due to a refrigerant leak, you’ll need to have that leak patched and the refrigerant recharged.
  • Burnt-out or frayed wiring can’t deliver needed power to the AC unit. Frayed wiring between the thermostat and appliance itself also means they can’t communicate with each other properly! If the appliance and thermostat are both in good repair, your AC repair technician can test wiring for needed replacing.

If the air conditioner cycles on but blows lukewarm air, the home’s ductwork might need cleaning. This might also signal a refrigerant leak or worn blower. Your AC repair contractor can check refrigerant levels and the fan’s operation, as well as the condition of your home’s ductwork.

central air system in residential house

How Do I Keep My House Cool When the AC Goes Out?

Check out this list of things to do when the AC goes out that will keep you nice and cool. First, close all blinds or curtains and keep rooms as dark as possible. Turn off your TV and electronics as well, as lamps and televisions all generate heat.

Avoid using the stove and oven during this time, as this can raise your home’s temperature by several degrees. When the AC is out, it’s time to enjoy some cold sandwiches, salads, or fruit, or indulge in some takeout so you don’t need to cook in the home.

Obviously you’ll want to switch on all the fans you own, but try to keep air circulating rather than aiming fans right at you. Circulating air helps dissipate trapped heat and also evaporates uncomfortable humidity. You’ll also want to mind what you’re wearing; switch to light cotton clothes rather than heavy denim, and keep as much skin exposed as you can, to release body heat.

Also, make lots of ice during this time; use a bowl or pan in the freezer to store it if needed. Along with enjoying cool beverages, chew on ice cubes throughout the day. If you feel overly heated, wrap some ice in a towel or washcloth and put this behind your neck or near your groin area, where the body tends to produce lots of heat.

It’s also helpful to take a shower in tepid water as often as needed, or use a cool, damp cloth on your face and elsewhere. Also, avoid having anything near you that might trap body heat or make you feel overly warm, such as an afghan on the sofa or a pet on your lap.

If the AC will be out for several days and especially if you have children in the home, don’t hesitate to visit indoor attractions and take advantage of their air conditioning! You might visit a public library or museum, walk around a mall, or see a movie. You might also find pools and aquatic centers nearby where you can all go for a swim and actually enjoy your time in the hot summer sun.

homeowners enjoying their air conditioning unit

How to Avoid Having an AC Go Out

The best way to keep yourself cool when the AC goes out is to avoid having it shut down in the first place! While even the highest-quality air conditioner will fail after so many years, how you maintain and use that appliance also affects its overall lifespan.

One vital tip is to ensure the compressor unit housing is not blocked by debris and that any blind or covering for it is at least three feet away, so the compressor can vent hot air as needed. Change the furnace filter every month during summer and wintertime, so it’s always clean and clear.

Regular air conditioner maintenance is also an excellent investment in keeping the home’s AC in good working order. Maintenance calls typically include checks of the home’s wiring and the unit’s motor, blower, belts, and bearings. An AC contractor will also check refrigerant levels and inspect for leaks, clean the unit, calibrate the thermostat, and other such tasks. Your AC maintenance contractor can also note anything needing repairs so you can schedule those fixes quickly and keep that appliance working as it should!

Total HVAC Houston is proud to present this information to our readers. If you still need assistance with things to do when the AC goes out, or emergency ac repair in the Houston area, don’t hesitate to give us a call! We offer a full line of heating and air conditioning repairs and carry all the latest name brand appliances for installation, with FREE quotes and a full satisfaction guarantee you can trust.


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