What to look for when investigating a damaged HVAC system

It’s the hottest night of the year. Your air conditioner has been running constantly to keep the heat and humidity at bay. Then, suddenly, it’s no longer running. You wake up to a warm home and an unresponsive air conditioner. Where do you start? What do you do?

Here’s the easiest answer: you should call your local HVAC professional for emergency service. Most AC problems require the assistance of an air conditioning expert who knows what they’re looking for and has the right tools and experience to address the problem and get your home cooled back down.

What to look for when investigating a damaged HVAC system

However, if you’re like most homeowners, you want to start by ruling out any obvious problems. Here’s our guide to doing a quick, safe inspection of your cooling system prior to calling for HVAC repair—or while you’re waiting for the tech to arrive.

Start by troubleshooting the problem

First, you’ll want to make sure the problem is your air conditioner. Check the thermostat: does it have power to it? Is it set to cool? In some cases, the thermostat battery runs out, effectively turning off the air conditioner.

In a scenario where the AC unit is still running but your home is heating up, look at the thermostat and compare the current indoor temperature and the set cooling temperature. If there’s a significant gap (such as the actual temperature being 5-10 degrees above the set temperature) between the two and the unit still isn’t starting up and running, that could be a sign that something is wrong.

Next, using a safety ladder or step stool, carefully reach up to your ceiling and wall vents. When the air conditioner is running, you should be able to feel recognizably cold air coming out of the ducts. If the air is neutral or warm, that’s another indicator that your air conditioner is having problems.

At this point, there’s a good chance that the problem is with the condenser unit or another physical component of your air conditioner. For your own safety and to prevent the problem from getting worse, it might be a good idea to cut power to the air conditioner until you can get a professional out to look at the system.

Investigate the unit itself

If you have a rooftop unit, this is the point where you need to call your local HVAC professionals and have them take it from here. AC technicians have the equipment needed to safely climb roofs and inspect air conditioners—under no circumstances should you attempt to do this yourself! Not only is there a danger of falling, but hot roof shingles and tiles can scald unwary homeowners.

If you have a ground-based unit, there’s a bit more detective work you can do. If you’ve already determined the thermostat is probably not the problem, head outside and look at the air conditioning unit. Needless to say, this is a lot easier to do in daylight—if you do need to inspect the unit at night, make sure you have a family member carry a powerful flashlight.

Give the system a once-over to see if there’s any obvious signs of damage. Strong winds can sometimes break off tree branches that get caught in the system and the condenser fins. If the problem isn’t that obvious, look at the concrete base the unit sits on. Is there any water pooled up under the unit? Dirty evaporator coils can cause them to freeze (even in the hottest temperatures). Once the system freezes up or the system turns off, this ice will then start to thaw, leading to water at the base of the system.

Do not open or attempt to fix your air conditioner

No matter how tempting it is to try to get your own air conditioner running again, do not open or otherwise attempt to fix the system. Beyond the physical danger of electrocution or burns, doing so will most likely void your manufacturer’s warranty—the guarantee that covers an air conditioner’s internal parts for many years after purchase.

Plus, air conditioners are complex: even if you access the inside of the condenser unit, you still don’t know what to look for, or what the problem could be. HVAC technicians have specialized training, tools, and years of experience. That’s what allows them to quickly get air conditioners back up-and-running again.

Call in the HVAC professionals

Every minute you delay is another minute your home gets warmer and warmer. We’re all for homeowners giving us as much information as possible when they call—it helps our technicians know what to expect and where to start. But, keep your investigation quick: the sooner you call us, the sooner we can get out to your home to inspect and fix your system.