One of the most common and unfortunately harmful problems an air conditioner can experience is a condition called short-cycling. This is a symptom of a problem with your air conditioner, and can actually cause further problems. Sometimes, a few simple adjustments might be all that’s needed to fix this problem. But if the root cause is serious, it may require a professional HVAC tech to conduct repairs.
Short-cycling must be resolved, otherwise, it will eventually lead to an early replacement for your air conditioner, and waste enormous amounts of power until that point.
What Is Short-Cycling?
This is the phrase HVAC professionals use to describe when an air conditioner or heat pump turns on and off rapidly, without ever completing a full cooling cycle.
In normal circumstances, an air conditioner powers up the compressor and runs until the thermostat registers that it’s met the temperature request. The cooling system then powers down the compressor.
In a short-cycling system, however, the air conditioner will prematurely stop the compressor before the end of the cooling cycle, and then start up again a short time later. When the compressor is turning on and off multiple times in an hour and the compressor runs for less than 15 minutes at a time, the AC is short-cycling.
Why Does Short-Cycling Happen?
Short-cycling is a definite sign of a malfunction happening somewhere in the system, and there are many potential reasons for it, including:
- A clogged air filter—this is, fortunately, something you can resolve on your own. Your air filter should be changed every 1 to 3 months depending on the type and the level of contaminants in your home.
- An oversized or undersized air conditioner—if this is the case you’ll notice the problem once the air conditioner is installed.
- Low refrigerant levels—Known as the refrigerant charge, if your refrigerant levels are low it means you have a leak. This is very harmful to your air conditioner, for more reasons that just short-cycling.
- Air escaping through breached ductwork.
- A miscalibrated thermostat reading incorrect temperatures.
Though you may have a good idea of what’s causing your air conditioner after reading this brief list, you should never try to attempt diagnosing the cause yourself—you want HVAC professionals to identify the correct source of the problem so it can be fixed fast and accurately.
The Negative Effects of Short-Cycling
As we mentioned above, short-cycling is both the symptom of a problem and the cause of problems in your air conditioner. Why?
- Your air conditioner drains the most power when the compressor starts up. When the system becomes trapped in a perpetual start-up process, it draws on far greater amounts of power.
- The compressor accumulates more wear and tear while this occurs, which can cause the system to overheat and burnout as a result. The cost to replace a burnt-out compressor is high enough that it’s typically more cost-effective to buy a whole new air conditioner—though this is dependent on a number of factors, such as if your system is still under warranty.
- If your cooling system stops the compressor before completing the full cooling cycle, it won’t have sufficient time to spread cooling to all parts of the home, leading to uneven comfort.
Do you think your AC is short-cycling? It’s time to give us a call!