A home is probably the biggest purchase you will make in your lifetime, so it goes without saying that you should take every precaution possible to ensure you're not investing in a money pit. One major appliance you should definitely check is the air conditioning unit. These machines can cost an average of $5,234 to replace, and you want to make sure the seller gives you a good deal on the home if you have pay for a new one right away. Here are two ways you can quickly uncover potential AC problems when touring a home.
Note How Many Times the AC Unit Turns On
One simple thing you can do is turn on the air conditioner and listen for how many times it cycles on and off during the time you're in the home. These appliances typically cycle 2 to 3 times per hour (once every 20 to 30 minutes). If the unit cycles more often than that, it could indicate a problem.
For instance, dirty condenser coils and air filters can block air flow, causing the unit to work harder. So much so, that the coils freeze up or the unit overheats and shuts off to recover, restarting again a few minutes later when the AC has cooled down or the coils have defrosted. While these issues are easily fixed, it could be evidence of a history of poor maintenance, which may mean you'll be spending money on repairing or replacing the unit sooner than expected.
Another reason why an air conditioner may turn on and off frequently is it may be too big for the home. You can confirm this is the case if the home feels more humid than it should. This is because air conditioners need time to extract moisture from the air, and an oversized AC unit cools the home too quickly to adequately dehumidify the space. This can contribute to mold growth in the walls. The more frequent cycling also causes the machine's parts to wear out faster, resulting in a reduced lifespan.
The only way to permanently fix an oversized AC problem is to replace the unit with something more appropriate for the space. There may be a few temporary things that can be done to help alleviate the problem, but that's still money you'll end up paying an HVAC technician to deal with.
Look for Evidence of Refrigerant Leaks
The other quick thing you can check for is refrigerant leaks. Air conditioners are designed to reuse the same refrigerant over and over again to cool your home. If the seller mentions something about needing to periodically have the refrigerant (typically Freon) refilled in the unit, that's a red flag indicating the air conditioner has a refrigerant leak that must be fixed as soon as possible.
If the seller doesn't mention anything about refrigerant refills or you don't get a chance to ask the homeowner this probing question, then check for the following signs of a leak:
- Low airflow or lukewarm air coming out of the registers when the AC is on
- Ice forming on the evaporator coils or the pipes passing through the appliance
- A sweet smell similar to chloroform near the unit (this is the smell of Freon leaking from the machine)
Refrigerant leaks cause the machine to work harder than it should to cool the home, which can lead to higher energy bills. Additionally, the ice that forms on or near the appliance can damage the system even more, leading to higher repair bills.
Identifying a problem with an air conditioning system before you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a home can help you negotiate a better price for the place or, at least, get the seller to agree to chip in on some of the repair/replacement cost. For more information about these issues or to have an air conditioner inspected by a professional, contact a local HVAC company, such as Always Ready Repair.