It’s a nice, hot day in the middle of summer, the sun is beating down, a warm breeze is blowing… when suddenly you realize that all that warm air is actually blowing out of your air conditioning vents!
That’s not usually an encouraging sign, and it can unfortunately mean that your air conditioner compressor has just kicked the bucket. Other signs of a failing compressor can include rattling, squealing, and even a tripped circuit. In any case, a busted compressor is not something you want during a heat wave, or on any day for that matter.
The worst part is that the compressor is *the* major part in your cooling system, which also means that it’s going to be the most expensive part to replace. And as if that wasn’t enough, replacing it may not be a good option, either.
But we’re not going to leave you with just the bad news. Here’s what you need to know about dealing with a zonked air conditioner compressor so you can choose the smartest and most cost-effective option for your needs.
First Be Sure It’s The Compressor!
Just because your AC is blowing warm air or making some strange noise doesn’t mean your compressor is kicked. The last thing you want to do is make a costly fix that didn’t need to be done in the first place – and doesn’t solve the problem.
Whatever you do, don’t diagnose this problem yourself. Warm air coming from vents could be a duct problem and not necessarily a compressor problem. If you’re leaking cool air from ducts into your walls and attic, then there is going to be less of it reaching your rooms.
Reduced cooling can be as simple as a clogged filter – a whole lot cheaper to replace than a compressor! Low refrigerant is another culprit. And a tripped circuit could be just that – a tripped circuit. That might signal an issue in wiring, or just a consequence of a strong thunderstorm.
The point is, don’t jump the gun and assume the worst. Call in a reputable professional for advice, and be sure that the compressor is actually done for.
Is It Worth Replacing The Compressor?
Like most things in life, the answer is… it depends. If it was a cheap and easy fix, we wouldn’t be having this conversation! But there are a number of factors that can affect your decision.
For starters, find out if the compressor is still under warranty. If it is, then you’re covered on the cost of parts, and replacing it can be a good option. Keep in mind, however, that you will still be responsible for the cost of the labor, and in this case, it’s one of the more labor-intensive repairs.
Still, if your air conditioner is in otherwise good shape and you haven’t experienced any other issues, then absorbing the labor cost to replace a compressor under warranty is probably your most cost-effective option.
Whatever you do, don’t cheap out on the labor! A skilled professional may charge a higher rate, but you’ll be getting higher-quality work that you can depend on. It’s not worth saving a few bucks only to give yourself more headaches and problems later. Choose a licensed professional who will provide costs and details in writing.
But what if the compressor isn’t under warranty? Now you’re dealing with parts and labor, and that can get pricey. Theoretically, you could replace the entire outdoor condenser unit, which is only marginally more expensive than replacing just the compressor, but still less expensive than replacing your entire air conditioning unit (both the outside and inside components).
If that sounds like a nice middle ground, hold your horses… you could be doing yourself more harm than good.
The truth is that sometimes the most cost-effective option in the short term is not the best one for the long term. While replacing the outdoor unit instead of the entire system will be cheaper *today*, the consequence is that your system will be “mismatched” , and that can be a lot costlier *tomorrow*.
The indoor and outdoor units are designed to work together in what’s called a “matched system.” Replacing one component and not the other means your system will no longer run as efficiently. That can mean poor cooling, and higher energy bills. It can also put additional stress on the system and that can cause other parts to fail prematurely.
Before you decide that’s a risk you’re willing to take, also consider that most manufactures will void your warranty unless you replace, and “match”, both components. Losing a warranty can make repairs and replacement much costlier over time.
With that said, your most viable option would typically be to replace just the compressor only if it’s relatively new, if you haven’t had other AC problems, and if it’s still under warranty. Otherwise, you strongly want to consider replacing both the outdoor condensing unit and the indoor evaporator coils.
When To Replace The Full Air Conditioner Unit
Your central air conditioner has three main components: the outdoor condensing unit (with the compressor housed inside), the indoor evaporator coils, and the indoor fan (the air handler, or furnace).
The more parts you replace, the more it adds up! So you may be wondering why you’d go so far as to replace the entire system when replacing just one or two components will get the job done.
Turns out there are a couple of good reasons to replace the full system, even if your current air handler is perfectly functional. Remember what we said about a “matched” set? There are inherent benefits to having parts that are all designed to work together, all of the same age, and all under the same warranty. Over the long haul, this will give you the most efficient system with the least potential for breakdowns.
So if you’re faced with the decision between replacing a compressor and evaporator coils, or the whole enchilada, consider the following: how old is your unit? If it’s 10 years older or more, replacing the full unit can get you the most bang for your buck. You’re almost certainly going to end up with a higher-efficiency unit, which means better cooling capacity and a lower cost to run the unit.
Depending on the age and type of your unit, a new system can also afford you quieter operation, improved humidity controls and even self-diagnostics.
Plus, replacing an older, out-of-warranty unit gets you the bonus of a brand new warranty. It may also come with rebates and incentives that make replacing everything a far more attractive option than going merely halfway.
So if your air conditioner compressor fails during one of these hot, summer days, you’ll now be a little bit better equipped to make a decision about which parts to replace. Of course, if that happens, get in touch with us first! We’re available for in-home evaluations and will provide a free estimate for exactly the service you need.