During an Aussie summer, we rely on a few important things – sunscreen, a hat, an esky to keep our beverage of choice chilled while out and about, and at home, our air conditioning unit.
An air conditioner can make life comfortable when temperatures climb… but how do you know when you can no longer rely on your AC system? Maybe you’ve noticed it doesn’t seem to cool or run as efficiently as it used to. Like all appliances, your air conditioner won’t last forever, although you will get a good innings out of a well-maintained system. While it depends on your unit, the climate you live in and how often you use it, a regularly serviced air conditioner will last much longer than one that is not.
Even a well-maintained air conditioner of a certain age might run into problems. So we’ve prepared a list of the top 7 telltale signs that indicate you need to replace your air conditioner sooner than later. If you recognise any of the signs, call in a pro to see if repair is an option, or start shopping for a replacement unit.
1. Unit is blowing hot or cold air which is inconsistent to temperature settings
One of the most common problems in an older air conditioning unit is that it just doesn’t cool or heat. It may still produce regular air levels, but the air isn’t coming out cold or hot as per its settings. From time to time during regular use, you may experience some warm air on a cool setting, but if your unit stops producing cool air entirely, it’s time to investigate and vice versa for heating. It may mean low refrigerant levels. However, warm air production when set for cooling can indicate a serious problem such as a damaged compressor.
Inconsistent temperatures are a sign of trouble too. Your air conditioner is supposed to provide a consistent air temperature at the setting you’ve chosen. When certain rooms become cold zones, and others don’t seem to get any cool air at all, it could mean your air conditioning unit is on the way out. If your unit is producing hot (or inconsistent) air, inspect the filters, valves, condensation drains and coils for air flow obstructions. But be prepared, a replacement unit may be on the cards.
2. Your unit has diminished air flow
During operation there is little or no cool air coming out of the vents. A significant decrease in air flow could be another sign that your air conditioner’s compressor is on its last leg. If your thermostat is set to a reasonable temperature and your home is still too warm, then your air conditioning system is definitely not working at its optimum level. Again, check filters first, but it might be time for a new unit.
3. It’s emitting strange noises or strange smells
A fully functioning air conditioning system should operate almost silently. If you know your unit well, you’ll be familiar with any little sounds it makes as it cycles. In fact, those noises will be a regular part of your life’s sound symphony. So, when you hear noises different from the norm, it’s time to act. Minor noise changes could simply indicate the need for some repairs. Perhaps the fan isn’t working properly, or one of the parts inside the unit has become loose, or an internal mechanism has become clogged with dirt. However, if the noise is a little stranger – such as screeching, grinding, grating, rattling, buzzing or ticking, this could indicate a serious problem that means unit replacement!
The same goes for unusual odours! If your unit is giving off a bad smell, it’s not just a nuisance, it indicates a problem you need to address right away. Foul odours can mean that your air conditioner’s insulation has become damaged or that the ductwork has become mouldy. Dirt, mould or mildew inside your unit can circulate contaminated air through your home and cause health issues for your family. So don’t ignore those bad smells. Strange smells may simply be caused by a filter that needs replacing. So check them first, but if your unit is still smelly, could be time to replace it.
4. Your unit is leaking or producing excess moisture
Depending on the type of air conditioner you have, a small amount of condensation or water dripping on the outside of your unit (i.e. outside the house) is normal. But for the most part, your air conditioning unit should stay dry whether or not it’s in use. If you notice moisture inside the house, a sudden increase in condensation or a leak, it may be time to replace your air conditioner. First of all, ask a professional air conditioning technician to inspect it straight away for safety reasons (electrical components and water are not a good combination). Some units may spring refrigerant leaks; refrigerant should only ever be handled by a professional due to the health risks it poses. Your air conditioning specialist will locate the source of the leak and let you know if a new unit is the most cost-effective course of action.
5. Your unit is short cycling
It’s quite normal for your air conditioner to cycle on and off to maintain a set temperature throughout your home. However, has your unit developed a tendency to switch itself off randomly? Or does it sometimes have difficulty getting started? If you notice that it is turning on and off more frequently than usual, it is possible that your unit is malfunctioning. Short cycling puts extra stress on your air conditioner, and will cause it to fail entirely if not handled quickly. Call a technician, and with any luck it may just be a blown fuse. But it may mean it’s time for a new unit.
6. Your energy bills have dramatically increased
Even if your unit appears to be functioning ‘normally’, one of the biggest telltale signs there may be a major problem can be found on your energy bill. Has it spiked suddenly and you aren’t sure why? Undertake an ‘energy audit’ and consider other factors that may have caused your energy bill to increase. This will help you to work out whether your air conditioning is the culprit behind a surge in energy costs. If all roads lead to your unit being the source of the extra power, then you need to determine why it has become significantly less efficient. Perhaps your air conditioning system is overworking? Diminished cooling capacity will raise energy costs as your unit struggles to maintain the desired temperature ineffectively. Try cleaning the air vents, replacing the filters and then check for any lumps or knots in the condensing coil. Of course, it may be an energy drain simply because it has become sluggish and is reaching the end of its working life.
7. Your unit requires frequent repairs (and is out of warranty)
Has your trusty air conditioning unit become more trouble (and expense) than its worth? In an ideal world, your unit should be serviced just once a year to keep it well maintained, clean and in tip top shape. Occasionally, you may need an extra service or repair. However, if your air conditioning system is constantly in need of mending and repairing, multiple times per year, then you may have to call time on this unit - replacing your air conditioner may simply be the more economical and efficient option. Usually, you can factor in one major repair or part replacement. However, if serious repairs occur later in the unit’s life, they serve as a warning of future issues. If your unit needs a complex repair after the warranty expires, that’s a sure sign to start shopping around for a new unit instead of pouring money into an old one with a limited shelf life.
So do you recognise any of these signs? Don’t wait.
If you detect any of these 7 signs that your air conditioning is malfunctioning, it’s time to call in a professional. To stay comfortable during the summer months, it’s vital to carry out any necessary repairs, or if it proves to be more cost effective, it may be time to part ways with your unit and invest in a brand spanking new one with a warranty. Acting now will let you get back to enjoying a trouble-free, noise-free, leak-free, energy-efficient Aussie summer or winter.