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How Does an Air Conditioner Work?
It is difficult to find a house without air conditioners (AC) in most parts of the world. These devices play an incredible role in making your indoor stay comfortable during the peak months of summer. An AC works in the same way as a refrigerator. The only difference between them is that a refrigerator cools a small space where as an AC cools a bigger area. But how does an air conditioner work. Well, the air conditioner works primarily with a chemical called Freon that is used to transfer the heat present in the house to the outside surrounding. The components of an air conditioner that help it to do so are a compressor, a condenser, and an evaporator. The compressor and condenser are located outside the house. The evaporator is located inside the house. The working fluid or Freon as it is called reaches the compressor as a cool, low-pressure gas. The job of the compressor is to squeeze it and increase its pressure and temperature. Due to compression the molecules get closer and the energy increases. The working fluid leaves the compressor as a hot, high pressure gas and flows into the condenser. Here it is condensed which gives out the heat to surrounding. When the working fluid leaves the condenser, its temperature is much cooler and it has transformed into a low pressure liquid. The liquid goes into the evaporator through a valve that regulates the amount of liquid that gets into the evaporator. The hot air in the room is sucked through the ducts, passed through a filter, and passed over the evaporator coil. The cool liquid inside the evaporator coil absorbs the heat from the air and cools it. It begins to evaporate into a gas due to soaking heat. The evaporator has metal fins to help in exchange the thermal energy with the surrounding air. The cool air is recirculated in the rooms with blower fans. By the time the working fluid leaves the evaporator, it is a cool, low pressure gas. It then returns to the compressor to begin another cycle.

This cycle continues until the air conditioner reaches the temperature set at the thermostat. Once it reaches the set temperature it cycles off. It cycles on when the temperature goes up again.

“It was luxuries like air conditioning that brought down the Roman Empire. With air conditioning their windows were shut, they couldn't hear the barbarians coming.”- Garrison Keillor

What are the usual air conditioner problems?
The air conditioner being a mechanical device is subject to wear and tear and therefore wold malfunction. It needs regular maintenance to live the full lifespan that it is designed for. Let’s take a look at some of the usual air conditioner problems -

Not cooling
This is one of the most common air conditioner complaints that are often heard from the homeowners. The reason for this could be many such as faulty compressor, filthy air filter, insufficient coolant, dirty coils, defective thermostat etc. Sometimes the issue could be as small as the thermostat not set in cooling mode. Sometimes the outside temperature surges so high that it becomes quite difficult to cool the interiors. Moreover buying an inappropriately sized air conditioner would also affect the output. An undersized air conditioner will only work hard to cool the space but fall short of reaching it; your utility bill will also go high. An oversized unit will cycle on and off frequently. It will not be able to purge off the humidity of the room effectively. Because of frequent cycling, the machine will wear and tear fast.

Refrigerant leakage
If you find that the AC is not cooling without any apparent reasons then the refrigerant charge could be low. This could be due to undercharging (charging less than manufacturer’s specification) or leakage. In case of the latter, refilling will not help. The fluid would leak out again. An AC service professional should repair the leakage and then refill the correct amount of refrigerant as specified by the manufacturer.

Water leakage from AC
Water leakage from an air conditioner is a common problem. The most common reasons for this issue are clogged drains, dirty evaporator coils, improper installation, low outside temperature, frozen evaporator, faulty condenser and air leakage.

Faulty thermostat
The thermostat is called the brain of an air conditioner. It is here that you set the temperature required from the machine. It directs the AC to produce the demanded cooling. But sometimes the sensor turns faulty and does not work properly. As a result the unit is unable to cool or the on-off cycle gets disturbed.

Compressor and fan failure
This is a very grave issue and replacing or repairing a compressor is quite expensive. A compressor of an air conditioner gets damaged if the unit cycles on and off frequently. Another reason could be electrical disturbance like voltage fluctuation. This causes the compressor to get overheated and it burns as a result.

Blocked Drains
The dirt, pet’s fur, and dust in the surrounding can cause the drain of the AC to get blocked.

What is the cost of repairing an AC?
The cost of repairing air conditioners in the US ranges between $165 and $507. Here is the cost range of repairing some common air conditioner issues:

• Detecting and repairing refrigerant leakage: $225-$1600
• Recharging the unit with refrigerant: $160-$400
• Replacing circuit board: $120-$600
• Replacing fuses, circuit breakers or relays: $15-$300
• Replacing thermostat: $60-$250
• Buying A/C compressor repair hard start kit: $100-$250
• Replacing capacitor or contactor: $90-$400
• Replacing compressor: $1350-$1800
• Replacing evaporator coil: $650-$1200
• Replacing the fan motor of the condensing unit: $100-$300
• Replacing the condensate pump: $90-$250

How to choose an AC repair company?
When your air conditioner does not work as it should or undergoes complete breakdown, you have to call a good repair service. How to choose the best one of them? Well, here are some tips-

• Always contact a couple of them and talk to them about your problem. They should come at your place, take a look of the problem, and thereafter give you a quote after describing the problem. Select a company that gives you the most reasonable price.

• The contractor should come to your house to take a look at the problem at hand. Don’t go for providers that give you a quote on phone. They can pile up the charge later. Moreover to understand the problem properly a contactor should see it for him.

• A good contractor should not oversell. He would give you time to take a decision. Moreover he should provide you some warranty for the work. This would speak a volume about the quality of work he does.

• A good contractor should be ready to work in afterhours such as weekends, early mornings, and even in the middle of the night. An air conditioner breakdown can happen at any time; it does not have fixed business hours for it.

• Always hire technicians who are licensed and insured. They should also have experience in the field. Ask the contractor to provide the contacts of his past customers as references.
To keep you air conditioner in good health you can subscribe to an annual maintenance service. The technicians usually come once a year i.e. before spring to tune it up. They detect small snags and resolve them before they blow out of proportion and generate costly repair bills. Such services can be invaluable to ensure a long life of your air conditioner.

You should also do some bit of maintenance yourself. This mainly comprises of changing the filter at regular intervals.

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