Central AC is one of those things that you miss the most only have you don't have it. This is especially true on the first few hot and humid summer days when you first try to turn on your air conditioner and nothing happens! A typical central air conditioner will only last between 12 to 15 years, so if your central AC is about this old you may want to start budgeting for a new one. A single visit from a heating and cooling repairman may cost $100 or more, so it's worth trying a few of these simple and free steps!
Before you try any of these steps, be safe and only attempt what you feel comfortable with. Most of these tips are electrical in nature because a central air conditioner system draws a lot of power and as the units get older they sometimes have to draw more power to work a little harder. Many times this extra power drain simply pops fuses or fires off reset switches which need to be found and switched back on.
1. Check your thermostat. Some electronic thermostats don't immediately turn on the unit and some have a range of temperatures they use to gauge whether or not the air conditioner or heat should turn on. You may want to check your thermostat manual to make sure you are operating it the way you should. Sometimes simply turning the thermostat on and off will help.
2. Make sure your thermostat is working well. So you know you're operating the thermostat correctly, but do you know your if your thermostat is working well? Again, electronic thermostats often run on battery power and those batteries have to be changed. Be sure to only use the type of batteries the thermostate manufacturer suggests (usually alkaline). An electronic thermostat is just an automatic switch that basically turns your AC unit on and off at certain temperatures. If the batteries are low the switch may not be turning on or reading the air temperature properly.
3. Check your fuses. A central air conditioner will probably have several different fuses and safety switches. First try turning the thermostat on and off (as in step 1). Then try resetting the fuse at your home's electrical panel. In some air conditioner systems there is another blower fuse and switch. There may be yet another fuse outside on the wall next to the air conditioner unit or in the unit itself. Some furnaces have reset buttons in them as well.
4. Read the manual! I put this last because, let's face it, you've probably lost or never had the operations manual! If you can find the operations manual to your central air conditioner unit you may want to investigate to see if there are any recommended troubleshooting suggestions.
I've kept my central air conditioner unit going an extra two months before I had it replaced simply by checking the fuses and reset switches whenever it stopped working. This little bit of running around was greatly appreciated on those 95 degree days with high humidity!
A replacement air conditioner unit will cost you anywhere between $2,500 and $5,000 depending on the size of the air conditioner unit you need and the brand and efficiency level you buy. The good news is that anything you buy these days will definitely be more efficient than your 10 year old AC unit.
Good luck and stay cool!
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