My Air Conditioner Does Not Work.  Help!

air conditioner does not workMy tenant called me on Saturday to let me know that her air conditioner does not work.  It was humid, the temperature was in the 80’s, and she had a new baby less than a couple of weeks old.  As a landlord, you have the choice of being a phone call taker, or not.  You have the choice of doing the repair or not.  As always, it helps to know a few things, about a few things, so you can make the proper decisions…

I have central air conditioning in ten of my units.  The other fourteen have window air conditioners.  This was a unit with a central air conditioner.  Like any piece of equipment, there are often repairs.  You need to keep up with them, and maintain all of your equipment and other wear and tear items.  An air conditioner is no different.  When an air conditioner does not work, it is time to spring into action!

Air Conditioner Does Not Work

A Property manager could have taken this call, and then called a HVAC company.  The HVAC Company would have come over, completed a diagnosis and maybe fixed the problem.  Or they may have come back another day with the part.  Or they may have just waited until Monday to come out.  Or they may have just told you that you need a completely new unit.  They may have charged extra for a Saturday call.  There are a hundred ways that it could have played out.

At my own house, it was hot.  I have central A/C too, and inside it was pretty nice.  But when I went outside, it was one of those sweaty days you need to get back inside.  I wanted to get my tenant back in the ‘cool’ as quickly as possible.  One thing you will find if you have been doing your own maintenance for a while is that many issues can be solved very easily.

Basic Air Conditioner Trouble Shooting

In this case, I needed to go to the property anyway to do some maintenance items on a different unit.  So the ‘trip charge’ was already built in.  I went to the tenants unit a bit after 7 PM when I was done with my other tasks.  I looked at the obvious items; the power switch was on, the circuit breaker was not tripped.  The blower motor on the furnace in the apartment was working correctly, there were no issues with the thermostat.  I brought a furnace filter and changed out the filter while I was there, and it made no difference.  I did not expect the new filter to fix the furnace, but it may have increased the airflow which might have been the issue.

Tip: Always use the cheap blue furnace filters.  They allow more air flow and are more efficient.  With a pleated furnace filter, you lose about 20% to 30% of your airflow.

Trouble with Main Air Conditioner Compressor Unit

After looking at the problem and trying my basic diagnosis, I knew the issue was at the main compressor unit.  The circuit breaker at the compressor unit itself was OK.  The cooling fan that cools the compressor was not turning.  I could hear the compressor attempt to fire up every few minutes, but it was failing.  I pushed the fan with a screwdriver through the fan cage; the fan was loose enough to turn.  That confirms that the cooling fan was not frozen or stuck.  Once I started the fan moving, the fan continued to run.  Even with the fan running, the air conditioner does not work.

Air Conditioner RepairOnce that troubleshooting was complete, I figured it had to be the start/run capacitor that was bad.  The start/run capacitor helps get the fan and compressor going right after it turned on.  It is also a weak link in the chain of the cooling process.  The start/run capacitor gives the compressor some extra ‘juice’ to help get the initial ball rolling; it takes a significant charge to start the compressor, so the capacitor give it the extra boost to get going.    In looking at the capacitor, it appeared to be bulged and had some oil leakage.  I had a strong feeling that this was the issue.  I called a friend of mine who that had fixed my furnaces in the past to see if he had the part.  Luckily, he had one.  He came over to deliver it, and I installed the new capacitor in about two minutes.  The air conditioner was back working by ~8:00 PM.

The DIY Savings

This repair would have been well in excess of $200 with an HVAC repair shop, and probably would not have been fixed that day.  Instead, the repair itself cost about $20 for the capacitor.  Even if you are wrong, and can successfully rule out the capacitor by changing it, and it’s only $20.  You can even find the capacitors cheaper online, for about $7.

When the fix was complete, the tenant was very happy; it was a quick fix on a Saturday evening.  The landlord (me) was happy; it was a cheap fix and I was able to do the fix almost right away.  If I would have had the part myself, it would have been even faster (note: two capacitors on order to have on hand).  That is how you can fix the dilemma of “my air conditioner does not work” as a landlord.

I tell my tenant after many of my fixes, “If you want to play ‘stump the landlord’, you have to get up pretty early in the morning”.  lol

Have you ever attempted your own air conditioner fix?  Have you ever had to pay a lot of money for the same issue on your own air conditioner?


8 Replies to “My Air Conditioner Does Not Work.  Help!”

  1. I’ve been considering getting central air for a 4 unit that I own. Since all 4 units use one furnace, I pay less money and can raise the rents to cover the summer costs. BUt I’ve always wondered about the maintenance, and reading stuff like this gives me a decent idea as to what I’m in for. Good post.

  2. We had to replace our HVAC unit on our rental a few years ago. I don’t know much about it, but I have a great team member who is an HVAC master and he was able to replace the entire unit for under $2,000, which I gladly accepted.

  3. I am a lucky duck and I have a good friend that is an HVAC person. He will do work for free but we pay for parts. I say free but usually beer and lots of food are on offer. I would not touch it myself because I am afraid of electrocuting myself. I am very capable of doing that and even shocked myself trying to install a phone jack once. (Yeah a phone jack!) Jeesh. good on you for fixing it though. Bet the tenant appreciated it with baby and all….

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