It happens all over America. And the rest of the world probably. It’s the hottest day ever and for some darn reason your AC isn’t cooling the house. You fiddle with the thermostat to try and fix the problem. Nada. All you can do now is go outside and check the AC unit. You make your way there and find your AC frozen! But how?
In this post we’ll cover how you can tell that your air conditioner has frozen (other than the obvious reasons), what could have caused the freeze, and some of the things you can do about your AC freezing up.
Keep reading and you may be able to fix the frozen AC yourself. If you can’t, call an HVAC specialist. If you live in Maryland, call SuperTech HVAC for AC repair. We’ll take care of it.
How Does an AC Work?
How you probably imagine an AC works is wrong.
Contrary to popular belief, an AC system does not inject cool air into a building. Instead, it removes the heat from inside and transfers it outside.
Cool huh? (Pun intended).
There are 4 major components among the 3 stations of an air conditioning system: the evaporator coil, the compressor, the condenser, and the refrigerant – a special chemical that links everything together through a closed loop system.
Warm indoor air is sucked into the return vent, through a filter, and blows over the evaporator coil. The heat is absorbed into the cold refrigerant, turning it from liquid to gas. The air, which is now cool, is blown back into the home to areas that your thermostat, i.e. you, has decided.
The refrigerant makes its way outside the house to the compressor, which squeezes the warm refrigerant, raising its gaseous temperature even more.
When the super hot vapor refrigerant reaches the condenser, the last step, the heat is expelled and absorbed into the outdoor air. The refrigerant instantly cools, which changes it from gas back to liquid form. The cold liquid refrigerant is now ready to return to station 1 and repeat the process.
Is Your AC Freezing Up? Here Are the Signs:
As you may have guessed, your air conditioner freezing up on a hot day is not normal.
If this happens, there’s no need to panic. Often the issue can be solved with a little troubleshooting. If the AC unit is left frozen for too long however, you may find yourself with a bigger problem.
First things first, how do you know your AC is frozen?
Well, the obvious sign is the ice on your refrigerant line-set pipe. Simply check between your outdoor AC unit and your home’s exterior wall to see whether your AC line frozen.
You might also have a frozen evaporator coil. This one’s not as easy to check. You’ll need to open a panel on the indoor unit to inspect. Don’t do this unless you’re handy. If you aren’t, call an HVAC pro like SuperTech HVAC or you may damage something in the process.
Seeing frozen AC parts isn’t the only way to tell your AC frozen.
There are some other, less obvious signs your AC is frozen:
- Your AC is not sending cool air back into your house.
- Condensation has formed on the surface of the indoor unit.
- Condensation has formed on the exterior of the condensate drain.
Why is my Air Conditioner Freezing Up?
The answer is simple: there is little to no air flow.
If there isn’t enough warm air blowing through the evaporator coil to transfer the heat, the refrigerant will not turn to warm gas. Instead, the refrigerant freezes – in the evaporator coil or in the line.
Poor air flow is the singular root of the problem, but there are many reasons why that might happen.
Here are the most common things that lead to compromised airflow, which leads to your air conditioner freezing:
Clogged air filters
An accumulation of dirt on the filter blocks the flow of warm indoor air. The next thing you know, the AC is frozen. So make sure you replace your filters often.
Blocked or closed supply and return vents – furniture or even curtains blocking return vents or closed supply registers to save energy; These missteps block air flow, which could easily leave your air conditioner frozen. Be careful.
If dirt cakes the evaporator coil, the airflow will become restricted and it will freeze. When your home’s indoor air travels in your ducts, it carries dust. Your filter helps capture most of it, but not all of it. Over time, the coil will get dirty and need cleaning. This is why it’s important to have regular maintenance checks by a professional.
Damaged blower fan
This pushes warm air to the coils. If the AC fan is malfunctioning and not blowing any air, or not blowing enough air, then eventually the frozen evaporator coil will stop the air conditioner from working.
Collapsed air ducts
They are air’s passageway through an AC system. Having an air duct collapse will block air flow, which certainly lead to your ac freezing up, among other things.
Low refrigerant level
The higher the pressure, the hotter the refrigerant (this is what happens in the compressor). When there’s a leak, there is less refrigerant. When there’s less refrigerant, it becomes less pressurized, which leaves your AC line frozen.
Clogged condensate lines
Moisture from the air is absorbed through the evaporator coil along with heat. A drainage line leads the condensed moisture (water) away from the cold refrigerant in your AC unit. If the drain line is blocked, water becomes trapped near the evaporator coil and freezes.
If Your AC Frozen, Try These Fixes First Before Calling an HVAC Professional
Darn … your AC unit frozen. What now?
Before calling for help, try these steps. You may save some time and money.
First things first
you want to make sure the frozen refrigerant does not make it to the compressor. That would be bad. The compressor is only built to receive hot vapor. And they aren’t cheap.
Turn the AC unit off using your thermostat. This stops the cooling. Now switch the fan on. Not auto, on. It will blow warm air onto the coil and speed up the defrost.
Now wait. Give the frozen evaporator coil, and/or refrigerant line time to thaw. This may take up to a full day in extreme situations.
Second, check and replace your air filters if needed
Even a little dirt can obstruct the normal flow of air.
If it looks unclean, get rid of it. And make sure to replace it with a clean filter. You don’t want the dirt from the air accumulating on the coil. This would lead to your AC freezing up.
Third, inspect your vents
Look for anything that may be blocking them on either side and clear it away. Check every room for shut vents – there may be a closed supply vent in an obscure corner you forgot about.
Last, it’s time to turn the AC on again.
Run it normally and keep an eye on it. If you see ice forming again, turn it off but turn the fan on so the ice can melt. Then call an HVAC technician.
Of course, to best way to eliminate issues such as an AC line frozen solid is to prevent them from happening.
How Do I Keep my Air Conditioner from Freezing Up?
As we mentioned before, anything blocking regular AC airflow will leave your AC freezing up.
The easiest and simplest things to do to prevent a frozen air conditioner is to change your filters regularly. This means from 4 to 12 times a year depending on the type of air filter, how many people live in the same household, and if there are pets.
The technician will check: your air filters for dirt, your coils for grime, your refrigerant level for leaks, your drain for blockages, and your blower fan for proper rotation and speed.
Lastly, and more importantly, the HVAC pro can evaluate your air ducts for good air flow. Sometimes this is hard to do because of how complex and hard to get at your air duct system is. There are many ways for the air flow in your air ducts to be inhibited (see our air balance blogpost). Having them checked in the spring and in the fall will help prevent an issue from popping up that could cost you big money.
Your AC has a special chemical called a refrigerant that is vital to cooling your home. If the refrigerant gets too cold, you’ll notice your AC freezing up. Even on the hottest of days.
Always plan ahead and properly maintain your AC system. Look for the signs that something is not right, and when you notice something awry, don’t wait to act or the problem will worsen.
We’ll assist you with any of your HVAC troubles. Even if it means we’re out in the hot sun looking at your frozen AC unit.