There’s a relatively common myth around air conditioners. It’s that ice is a normal part of the cooling process. This makes sense after all, right? AC systems chill the air, so if it’s cold enough, ice will develop, right?
It’s easy for us to understand why homeowners would jump to this conclusion. Unfortunately, however, it is incorrect. Believing in this myth can do your air conditioner a lot of harm. Ice development on an air conditioner is a fairly serious problem and can lead to a number of other problems for the AC system.
What Causes Ice to Develop on an Air Conditioner?
It’s first important to note where on an air conditioner ice is most likely to develop on an air conditioner. This is going to be its coils–the evaporator coil or the condenser coil. But why does it happen? The short answer is “a lack of proper airflow.” So why does that happen?
In most cases, this may occur due to a dirty air filter. The air filters that come standard with your HVAC systems are there to protect those HVAC systems from dirt, dust, and other debris that can get inside and damage the sensitive components of the system. These filters help your cooling system work as efficiently and effectively as possible for as long as possible.
It’s important that you change (or clean, if they’re permanent) these air filters on your own every 1-3 months during periods of system use. This does depend on the type of filters you have and the level of contaminants in your home. Without changing or cleaning them, the air filters will get too clogged up, which will restrict airflow going into the system, which will, in turn, restrict airflow going over the coils. When this happens, temperatures in the coils drop so low, due to the cold refrigerant, that the coil freezes over.
Another potential cause of ice development on your AC coils is a refrigerant leak. Remember how we said there’s cold refrigerant going through the coils? Well, it absorbs the heat from your home. So if there isn’t enough refrigerant to absorb all that heat, the evaporator coil may freeze over.
“I Might Already Have Ice on My Air Conditioner…”
Do you know how to detect frozen coils? First off, if you see ice anywhere on your air conditioner–unless it’s the dead of winter and you’re not actually using your air conditioner–it means that ice is somewhere it shouldn’t be. Two other apparent signs to watch out for include:
- Your AC system is running, but not expelling cold air through the vents.
- You notice extra moisture and condensation around the air conditioner, which indicates that ice has started to thaw and drip (and can infiltrate your home and cause property damage, BTW!)
“What Should I Do?”
If you discover ice developing anywhere on your air conditioner, the last thing you should do is try to thaw or remove it on your own. Even if you can do so without damaging the AC coils, you won’t have gotten to the root of the problem, and ice will just develop again. Eventually, this can cause property damage and even a complete air conditioner breakdown.