AC compressor
Is Your AC Compressor On The Fritz? Here’s How To Know For Sure

When Mother Nature turns up the heat, most people reach for the thermostat and crank up their home air conditioning system to remain cool and comfortable during the summer months. But what happens when your AC system won’t cooperate? What do you do when it blows warm air or no air at all?

Your home AC system can fail for a variety of reasons, but one of the more common issues is with the compressor.

In this article, we’ll look at why your AC compressor is vital to your home’s AC system, what causes it to go bad, and how much you can expect to pay for a new one.

How Your Air Conditioner Works

Most people don’t give their air conditioner a second thought until the day it stops working. They expect it to keep their home cool in the summer and warm in the winter, forever.

But knowing how your AC system works can help you diagnose a small problem that can be fixed quickly and inexpensively, before it grows into a large problem that costs hundreds to fix.

Most central air conditioners have an outside unit and an inside unit. The indoor unit contains the evaporator which houses the cooling liquid or refrigerant. This refrigerant absorbs heat from the air in your home and allows for cold air to blow out in its place.

The outside unit contains your compressor, the fan, and the condenser coils. Heat removed from the air inside your house passes to the refrigerant and then gets pushed to the outdoor unit where it passes over the condenser coil and then through the compressor.

Think of your compressor as the heart of your air conditioner system whose responsibility is to move the air throughout the system. When the compressor goes, so does your air conditioner.

What Happens When Your AC Compressor is Bad?

Now that you know how vital your air compressor is to your air conditioning system, it’s time to look at what happens when it goes bad and why it fails.

When the air compressor stops working your system grinds to a halt. You no longer get cold air because the refrigerant and the air is no longer pumped through they system.

Air compressors are expensive to replace, and while most are built to last up to 15 years plus, they fail eventually. However, with proper ac maintenance, you can extend the life of your AC unit and ensure it operates as you desire year in and year out.

Here are some common reasons your air compressor might fail.

  1. Dirty Coils — As your system ages, grime, dust, and mineral scales build up on your condenser coils, and when this happens, the unit can’t get rid of the heat efficiently, which causes it to work harder. As the unit works harder, it puts more wear and tear on it thus shortening its lifespan. Too much dirt can cause the compressor to overheat and stop working.
  2. Clogged Suction Lines — The suction lines are like the arteries of your AC system, as they carry the refrigerant necessary to keep the air cool. When these lines become clogged, you’ll notice a drop in how cold the air gets. As with dirty coils, the clogged suction lines cause the compressor to work harder, overheat, and eventually fail.
  3. Refrigerant Leaks — Sometimes, cracks develop in the lines that carry the refrigerant which can cause the fluid to leak. When there’s insufficient refrigerant, the system has to work harder to cool the air, which causes strain and eventual breakdown.
  4. Poor Lubrication — For your compressor to function optimally, it needs proper and thorough lubrication. Whether it’s due to age or if it was never well-lubricated, poor lubrication causes the compressor to work harder, which leads to an early demise.
  5. Power Failure — An air compressor can become damaged because of an electric shock to the system such as voltage fluctuations.

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How Much Does An AC Compressor Cost?

Getting a new air compressor is expensive, and depending on where you live and who installs it, the prices vary considerably. If you’re installing the unit yourself, expect to pay anywhere from $400-$800 for the unit depending on the model of your air conditioner. If you’re hiring an HVAC technician to install it, expect to pay anywhere from $1,200-$2,000.

Signs Your AC Compressor Is Going Bad

Since no one wants to shell out money for a new air compressor or a whole new HVAC system, it’s a good idea to know when something is going wrong and fix it quickly before the problem gets worse. Here are a few signs to watch out for that warn you your air compressor is failing.

  • Grinding, Chattering Noises — A noisy air conditioner is a sign that something is wrong and it should you should check it out right away.
  • Fluid Leaks — If you see refrigerant leaking or any fluid leaking from your system, get help immediately.
  • Low Airflow — If you’ve noticed the airflow in your home has diminished, the air compressor could be the culprit.
  • Warm or Hot Air — Sometimes, as the compressor fails, the air blowing out of the system is warm or even hot.
  • No Air — Obviously, if your air conditioner isn’t blowing any air at all, it’s a sure sign that something is wrong with the compressor.

When to Call An HVAC Professional

HVAC systems are complex machines and it takes someone with the technical know-how to fix them properly.

Any time you have a problem with your HVAC system, it’s best to call in a professional technician for an assessment and a fix rather than trying to do it yourself. If you damage the unit by trying to fix it yourself, you may void the manufacturer’s warranty.

Lastly, it’s a good idea to have a professional HVAC contractor perform routine maintenance on your system at regular intervals to ensure the system works as expected and lasts as long as possible.