How to Stay Cool When Your Air Conditioning Stops Working

September 22, 2023

How to Stay Cool When Your Air Conditioning Stops Working


In the heat of summer, no one has time for the inconvenience and discomfort that follows when your central air conditioning stops working. Many untimely breakdowns can be avoided with regular and pre-season maintenance by a professional. But when the unexpected happens, you can take quick action to get your system back up and running.

Common Problems That May Stop Your System

We've identified some of the most common problems that can cause your system to operate inefficiently or stop cooling all together. Because your air conditioning system directly affects the comfort of your home, you want it working at peak performance in when you need it.  

So, what's the best way to get your cooling system back in working order as soon as possible? Depending on the source of the problem, you may be able to troubleshoot a simple solution on your own or you may need the help of a professional. Sometimes the solution is as easy as cleaning certain components or changing a filter, but other times the issue is more complicated, requiring professional know-how to complete the repair. Because the main components of most central air conditioning systems are sealed, it's best to leave most jobs - other than simple cleaning - to the experts.  

The table below shows these common problems, their possible causes and solutions.  

Central Air Conditioning Solutions: Troubleshooting Chart


Possible cause


Condenser (outdoor unit) doesn’t run

1) No Power

2) High thermostat

3) Faulty motor

4) Faulty compressor

1) Check blown fuses; restore circuit

2) Lower thermostat by 5 degrees

3) Call a professional

4) Call a professional

Uneven cooling in home

1) Distribution system out of balance

1) Call a professional to evaluate and balance system

Inadequate cooling

1) High thermostat

2) Dirty evaporator

3) Incorrect unit size

1) Lower thermostat by 5 degrees

2) Clean evaporator

3) Get expert advice on proper size

Unit doesn’t cool

1) High thermostat

2) Dirty condenser

3) Condenser blocked

4) Dirty evaporator

5) Faulty compressor

6) Low refrigerant

1) Lower thermostat by 5 degrees

2) Call a professional

3) Remove debris or material blocking

4) Clean evaporator

5) Call a professional

6) Call a professional

Condenser unit turns on and off inconsistently

1) Dirty condenser

2) Condenser unit blocked

3) Dirty evaporator

1) Call a professional

2) Remove debris or material blocking

3) Clean evaporator

Credit: Table adapted from publication

Understand Your Air Conditioning System

Whether you're performing a simple repair yourself of getting service from a pro, you should become familiar with the main parts of your air conditioning equipment. Most air conditioning systems operate in the same basic way, regardless of whether you are using the most common system - a split system - or a heat pump. The systems use two major components to cool your home - an outdoor unit, called a condenser, and the indoor equipment, called the evaporator. In very simple terms, these components work together to pull warm air from the interior of the home. They remove heat from the air and then distribute the cooled air through your duct system into the different areas of your home.

The image below points out the various parts of these two major components.  


Image credit: HowStuffWorks

Note that before the warm season begins in your area, you can take steps to get your system ready for heavier usage. Read here for tips on getting your air conditioning system ready for summer.

Home Comfort Tips

Here are some of our best tips for maintaining a central air conditioning system yourself, in between service appointments:

  • Clean or change filters regularly. A dirty filter is not only unhealthy, it reduces heating and cooling comfort and efficiency. If ignored for too long, a dirty filter can also can damage your air conditioning equipment.
  • Keep air clean around the outdoor unit. Be sure the area around your outdoor equipment is clear. Trash and debris that can collect around the unit and outdoor coils can increase utility bills and can seriously damage your unit.
  • Have a Preventive Maintenance Check (PMC) conducted at least once each year. Getting your unit checked regularly by a professional will give you peace of mind and will help to avoid untimely failures when you need your system the most.
  • Use a programmable thermostat. Set it and forget it! Programmable thermostats can meet the varying energy needs of your family around the clock, automatically. This energy-saving measure can lower your costs when you use the best money saving temperature settings.

Image credit: Patrick Hawks

Home Comfort Guide

Topics: Tips & Tricks, Air Conditioners, Central Air Conditioning, Cooling Tips

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