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Air conditioner compressors usually fail due to one of two conditions: time and hours of operation (wear out),

or abuse. There are some failures that can occur elsewhere in the system that will cause a compressor failure, but these are less common unless the system has been substantially abused. Usually abuse is a result of extended running with improper freon charge, or as a consequence of improper service along the way. This improper service can include overcharging, undercharging, installing the wrong starter capacitor as a replacement, removing (rather than repairing/replacing) the thermal limiter, insufficient oil, mixing incompatible oil types, or wrong oil, installing the compressor on a system that had a major burnout without taking proper steps to remove the acid from the system, installing the wrong compressor (too small) for the system, or installing a new compressor on a system that had some other failure that was never diagnosed. The compressor can fail in only a handful of different ways. It can fail open, fail shorted, experience a bearing failure, or a piston failure (throw a rod), or experience a valve failure. That is pretty much the entire list. When a compressor fails open, a wire inside the compressor breaks. This is unserviceable and the symptom is that the compressor does not run, though it may hum. If the compressor fails open, and following the steps here does not fix it, then the system may be a good candidate for a new compressor. This failure causes no further failures and won't damage the rest of the system; if the rest of the system is not decrepit then it would be cost effective to just put a new compressor in. Testing for a failed open compressor is easy. Pop the electrical cover for the compressor off, and remove the wires and the thermal limiter. Using an ohmmeter, measure the impedance from one terminal to another across all three terminals of the compressor. Also measure the impedance to the case of the compressor for all three terminals. You should read low impedance values for all terminal to terminal connections (a few hundred ohms or less) and you should have a high impedance (several kilo-ohms or greater) for all terminals to the case (which is ground). If any of the terminal to terminal connections is a very high impedance, you have a failed open compressor. In very rare cases, a failed open compressor may show a low impedance to ground from one terminal (which will be one of the terminals associated with the failed open). In this case, the broken wire has moved and is contacting the case. This condition - which is quite rare but not impossible - could cause a breaker to trip and could result in a misdiagnosis of failed short. Be careful here; do an acid test of the contents of the lines before deciding how to proceed with repair. When a compressor fails short, what happens is that insulation on the wires has worn off or burned off or broken inside the compressor. This allows a wire on a motor winding to touch something it should not touch - most commonly itself a turn or two further along on the motor winding. This results in a "shorted winding" which will stop the compressor immediately and cause it to heat up and burn internally.

Bad bearings can cause a failed short. Either the rotor wobbles enough to contact the stator, resulting in insulation damage that shorts the rotor either to ground or to the stator, or end bearing wear can allow the stator to shift down over time until it begins to rub against the stator ends or the housing. Usually when one of these shorts occur, it is not immediately a hard short - meaning that initially the contact is intermittent and comes and goes. Every time the short occurs, the compressor torque drops sharply, the compressor may shudder a bit visibly as a result, and this shudder shakes the winding enough to separate the short. While the short is in place, the current through the shorted winding shoots up and a lot of heat is produced. Also, usually the short will blow some sparks - which produces acid inside the air conditioner system by decomposing the freon into a mixture of hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid. Over time (possibly a couple of weeks, usually less) the shuddering and the sparking and the heat and the acid cause insulation to fail rapidly on the winding. Ultimately, the winding loses enough insulation that the inside of the compressor is literally burning. This will only go on for a few minutes but in that time the compressor destroys itself and fills the system with acid. Then the compressor stops. It may at that time melt a wire loose and short to the housing (which can trip your house main breaker) or it may not. If the initial cause of the failure was bad bearings causing the rotor to rub, then usually when the thing finally dies it will be shorted to the housing. If it shorts to the housing, it will blow fuses and/or breakers and your ohmmeter will show a very low impedance from one or more windings to ground. If it does not short to the housing, then it will just stop. You still establish the type of failure using an ohmmeter. You cannot directly diagnose a failed short with an ohmmeter unless it shorts to the housing - a shorted winding won't show up with an ohmmeter though it would with an inductance meter (but who has one of those?) Instead, you have to infer the failed short. You do this by establishing the the ohmmeter gives normal readings, the starter capacitor is good, power is arriving at the compressor, AND an acid test of the freon shows acid present. With a failed short, just give up. Change everything, including the lines if possible. It is not worth fixing; it is full of acid and therefore is all junk. Further, a failed short could have been initially induced by some other failure in the system that caused a compressor overload; by replacing the whole system you also will get rid of that potential other problem. Less commonly, a compressor will have a bearing failure, piston failure or a valve failure. These mechanical failures usually just signal wear out but could signal abuse (low lubricant levels, thermal limiter removed so compressor overheats, chronic low freon condition due to un-repaired leaks). More rarely, they can signal another failure in the

system such as a reversing valve problem or an expansion valve problem that winds up letting liquid freon get into the suction side of the compressor. If a bearing fails, usually you will know because the compressor will sound like a motor with a bad bearing, or it will lock up and refuse to run. In the worst case, the rotor will wobble, the windings will rub on the stator, and you will wind up with a failed short. If the compressor locks up mechanically and fails to run, you will know because it will buzz very loudly for a few seconds and may shudder (just like any stalled motor) until the thermal limiter cuts it off. When you do your electrical checks, you will find no evidence of failed open or failed short. The acid test will show no acid. In this case, you might try a hard-start kit but if the compressor has failed mechanically the hard-start kit won't get the compressor to start. In this case, replacing the compressor is a good plan so long as the rest of the system is not decrepit. After replacing the compressor, you must carefully analyze the performance of the entire system to determine whether the compressor problem was induced by something else. Rarely, the compressor will experience a valve failure. In this case, it will either sit there and appear to run happily but will pump no fluid (valve won't close), or it will lock up due to an inability to move the fluid out of the compression chamber (valve won't open). If it is running happily, then once you have established that there is indeed plenty of freon in the system, but nothing is moving, then you have no choice but to change the compressor. Again, a system with a compressor that has had a valve failure is a good candidate for a new compressor. Now, if the compressor is mechanically locked up it could be because of a couple of things. If the compressor is on a heat pump, make sure the reversing valve is not stuck half way. Also make sure the expansion valve is working; if it is blocked it can lock the compressor. Also make sure the filter is not clogged. I once saw a system that had a locked compressor due to liquid lock. Some idiot had "serviced" the system by adding freon, and adding freon, and adding freon until the thing was completely full of liquid. Trust me; that does not work. Should diagnosis show a clogged filter, then this should be taken as positive evidence of some failure in the system OTHER than a compressor failure. Typically, it will be metal fragments out of the compressor that clogs the filter. This can only happen if something is causing the compressor to wear very rapidly, particularly in the pistons, the rings, the bores, and the bearings. Either the compressor has vastly insufficient lubrication OR (and more commonly) liquid freon is getting into the compressor on the suction line. This behavior must be stopped. Look at the expansion valve and at the reversing valve (for a heat pump). Often an old system experiences enough mechanical wear internally that it is "worn in" and needs more torque to start against the system load than can be delivered. This system will sound just like one with a locked bearing; the compressor will buzz loudly for a few seconds then the thermal limiter will kill it. Occasionally, this system will start right up if

you whack the compressor with a rubber mallet while it is buzzing. Such a system is a good candidate for a hard-start kit. This kit stores energy and, when the compressor is told to start, dumps extra current into the compressor for a second or so. This overloads the compressor, but gives some extra torque for a short time and is often enough to make that compressor run again. I have had hard-start kits give me an extra 8 or 9 years in some old units that otherwise I would have been replacing. Conversely, I have had them give only a few months. It is your call, but considering how cheap a hard-start kit is, it is worth trying when the symptoms are as described. And this, in a nutshell, is what can happen to an air conditioner compressor and what you can do about it. Jim Locker holds advanced degrees in physics, has designed and developed computer systems and software for over 30 years, and was a landlord for 20 years running up to a couple of hundred properties. He presently works as an independent computer systems consultant and works for Just So Software, Inc. whose site is here

AC Compressor Failures and Symptoms

The AC compressor is a belt driven pump that is fastened to the engine and is commonly referred to as the heart of the system. The refrigerant gas is compressed and transferred though the compressor. The system has two sections viz. the high pressure side and the low pressure side and is defined as discharge and suction. The suction side draws in refrigerant gas from the outlet of the evaporator or via the accumulator. After the refrigerant is drawn from the suction side, it is compressed and sent to the AC compressor where it transfers the heat from the inside of the vehicle. Bad compressor or compressor clutch makes poor or no cooling and gives a noise. If the AC gives poor cooling then the system has low refrigerant. Use of wrong refrigerant or oil can reduce system performance or even cause damage. The AC compressor can fail in many ways. Some of the failures are fail shorted, experience a bearing failure or a pistern failure or a blown fuse. Ball bearing can cause a short. Damaged insulation by the rotor fails to start the AC compressor. Another failure of the AC compressor is the clogged filter. The clogged filter is the metal fragments which come out of the filter. When the climate control is in the defroster mode to remove moisture from the interior, the AC system operates. If there is poor cooling, the A/C system is low on refrigerant. Here are one or two conditions that make a compressor bad. Viz. the number of hours the AC compressor is on and abuse. The AC compressor, if it is low on refrigerant or a leaky compressor or o-ring, the compressor can be termed a bad computer. This is a brief summary of the faults of an air conditioning compressor.

Additional Reference: Car Parts Warehouse is one of the leading sellers of high qualitya/c compressor and AC accessories. Written By : Sudarshana P.H

Air Conditioner Compressor Failures


Second only to refrigerant hose leaks, compressors have the highest rate of failure of any motor vehicle air conditioner (HVAC) component. Yet compressors very seldom fail on their own and it is imperative that the cause of failure be properly diagnosed and corrected when replacing the compressor. If this is not done, your replacement compressor will also fail in a very short time. A compressor is an engine. Engine failure is almost always caused by a lubrication or a "coolant" problem. Compressors fail for the same reasons.

Referring to the air conditioner, "coolant failure" means not dissipating heat from the condenser or having too much heat in the condenser. (Similar to a problem in the engine's radiator). Too much heat means too high head pressure. On very hot days this means a high side reading well over 300PSI. High head pressure is caused by: A. B. C. D. E. Too much refrigerant. (Overcharge) A dirty bug screen or debris blocking the condenser. A clogged radiator/cooling system. A defective fan clutch or switch that activates the fan clutch. A pinched tube in the condenser or too small of a condenser (if retrofitted or replaced). F. Improperly operating shutters. G. Contaminated refrigerant. H. Excessive air content (non-condensables gas) in system.
Air Conditioner Compressor Failure How To Diagnose an a/c Compressor Failure and Prevent It From Happening Again Copyright Adapted from an article written by Larry Carley for Import Car magazine The compressor is the heart of the refrigeration circuit. It pumps and pressurizes the refrigerant to move it through the A/C system. Compressors work hard and run hot, up to several hundred degrees and several hundred pounds per square inch of internal pressure. They rely on only a few ounces of lubricant to keep their parts moving. If the lubricant is lost because of a leak, or the

lubricant breaks down due to contamination, the compressor will not last. Sooner or later, the compressor will call it quits. The most common symptom of a compressor failure (besides no cooling) is a seized compressor. It will not turn when the magnetic clutch engages, and you may hear squeals of protest from the drive belt. Or, the belt may have already broken or been thrown off its pulleys. Loss of lubrication is unquestionably the most common cause of compressor failure. This can happen when there is a refrigerant leak somewhere in the system that allows refrigerant and oil to escape. Typical leak points are hoses, hose and pipe connections (O-rings and flange gaskets), the evaporator, condenser or the compressor shaft seal. An electronic leak detector or dye should be used to find the leak so it can be repaired. A restriction inside the A/C system can also starve the compressor for oil. Oil circulates with the refrigerant, so if the orifice tube or expansion valve is blocked it may cause the compressor to run dry and seize. Even if a compressor is still turning, it may have to be replaced if it is leaking, making excessive noise or not working correctly. Some compressors are naturally noisier than others, but loud knocking noises can sometimes be caused by air in the system (the cure here is to vacuum purge the system to remove the unwanted air, then to recharge the system with refrigerant). Metallic noises and bearing noise are usually signals that the compressor is about to fail. A new compressor may be needed if the unit is leaking internally or not producing enough pressure due to bad reed valves, worn piston rings, or worn or scored cylinders, etc.). A worn compressor or one with internal problems will not be able to develop normal operating pressures with a full charge of refrigerant. This kind of problem can be diagnosed with an A/C gauge set. Poor cooling can also be caused by a lot of things other than a bad compressor, so do not replace the compressor until you have ruled out other possibilities such as a low refrigerant charge, too much oil in the system, air contamination, a clogged condenser, plugged orifice tube, inoperative electric cooling fan, etc. Compressor operation can be affected by sensors in vehicles with automatic temperature control systems. Some have an A/C pressure transducer (usually mounted in the high side line) to monitor refrigerant pressure and shut off the compressor if pressure gets too high; a compressor temperature sensor to turn off the compressor if it gets too hot; and/or a compressor rpm sensor to monitor belt slippage. Mitsubishi, for example, uses a "belt lock controller" to disengage the compressor if the drive belt slips or the compressor seizes. On 1996 and newer Mercedes-Benz E-Class cars, the A/C control module will disengage the compressor if the refrigerant temperature and pressure sensors do not show a rise when the compressor is being driven. COMPRESSOR CLUTCH PROBLEMS If the compressor is not turning, make sure the magnetic clutch engages when energized. Underlying problems here may include a bad relay, fuse, wiring problem or a defective clutch. If the clutch fails to cycle on and off when the A/C is turned on, jumping the clutch lead with a jumper wire from the battery will show if the problem is in the clutch or elsewhere. If the clutch engages, the problem is the clutch power supply (relay, fuse, wiring, switch or control module). Refer to a wiring diagram and work backward toward the battery to find out why the voltage is not getting through.

Many A/C systems have a low-pressure cutout switch that prevents the compressor clutch from engaging if system pressure (the refrigerant charge) is too low. This is designed to protect the compressor from damage in the event of a leak. So if the clutch is not engaging, check the refrigerant charge and the cutout switch. The clutch air gap is also important for proper clutch operation. If the clearance is not correct, the clutch may slip and burn or not engage at all. The specs can be found in a service manual along with adjustment procedures. Generally speaking, most clutches call for a 0.015 to 0.040 inch press fit clearance. DEFECTIVE COMPRESSORS? How often do compressors fail as a result of "manufacturing defects?" Not very often. According to one compressor manufacturer who examined 75 compressors that had failed and were returned under warranty, only two were found to have manufacturing defects. The rest failed because of problems such as too little oil in the system, air in the system, contaminants in the system, or "installer error." The latter category included using the wrong type of compressor lubricant, not using enough lubricant, using non-approved flushes to "clean" system parts, and using cross-contaminated refrigerants. Debris left over from a previous compressor failure was the most common cause of repeat compressor failures. Always use the type of lubricant recommended for specific compressors. This is especially important with rotary vane and scroll-type compressors. A replacement compressor may or may not contain lubricant from the factory. In some cases, the shipping oil must be drained before the compressor is installed. In other cases, the compressor may contain a POE or PAG lubricant that may or may not be compatible with the vehicle requirements. Follow the compressor suppliers installation instructions to the letter to avoid warranty problems later on. Before adding fresh oil to a system, all the old oil should first be removed. This will prevent crosscontamination of lubricants and reduce the risk of overcharging the system with too much oil (which can cause cooling problems). Always refer to the OEM oil capacity chart for the vehicle application. The following is a list of recommended lubricants for R-134a import compressors: Behr/Bosch rotary compressors - Ester 100; Behr/Bosch piston compressors - PAG 46; Calsonic V5 - PAG 150; Calsonic V6 - PAG 46; Diesel/Kiki (Zexel) DKS, DKV & DCW - PAG 46; Hitachi (all) - PAG 46; Keihin (all) - PAG 46; Matsushita (all) - Ester 100; Mitsubishi FX80 - PAG 100; Mitsubishi FX105 - PAG 46; Nihon (all) - Ester 100; Nippondenso 6P, 10P, 10PA, 10P08E - PAG 46; Nippondenso SP127, SP134 & 6E171 - PAG 46; Nippondenso TV series - PAG 125; Panasonic (all) - PAG 46; Sanden SD500 & SD700 - PAG 100; Sanden SD710, SDB, TV & TRS - PAG 46; and Seik-Seiki (all) - Ester 100.

FLUSHING AFTER A COMPRESSOR FAILURE When a compressor fails, it may spit metallic debris into the A/C system. Most of this debris ends up in the condenser where it can block tubes and interfere with efficient cooling. Some of the debris may be carried to the orifice tube or expansion valve and create a blockage. Debris can

even be blown back into the suction tube. If not removed by flushing, it can be sucked back into a new compressor and cause it to fail. Flushing the hoses is always recommended following a compressor failure. Flushing the condenser is also recommended. But with many condensers, replacement is the only sure-fire way to get rid of contaminants. Older serpentine-style tube-and-fin condensers can often be flushed successfully, but parallel flow condensers are very difficult to clean. So too are newer style condensers with extremely small extruded tubes. For these kinds of applications, the condenser should be replaced. It is expensive, but not as expensive as ruining a new compressor because of residual debris or sludge in the old condenser. After flushing, install an in-line filter after the condenser to trap any debris that might still be inside. The filter will prevent anything that works loose from being carried to the orifice tube. You should also install a filter screen in the suction hose at the compressor inlet to protect the new compressor from any debris that might be upstream inside the suction hose or evaporator. Another reason for flushing is to remove residual oil from the system. This is necessary when retrofitting an older R-12 system to the new ozone-safe R-134a refrigerant, but it is also a good way to make sure the system contains the right amount of oil. Simply adding oil to the system to replace that which has been lost is a guess at best, because there is no way to know how much has been lost due to leakage. Estimating a couple of ounces here and there for replacing an accumulator, receiver/drier, condenser, compressor or hoses is not a very accurate means of determining how much oil needs to be added to the system when it is recharged with refrigerant. Flushing gets rid of all the oil so the exact amount specified by the vehicle manufacturer can be added back to the system. What happens if there is too little or too much compressor oil in the system? Not enough oil in the system will reduce compressor lubrication and may lead to premature failure. Too much oil in the system can puddle in the condenser and obstruct the flow of refrigerant causing a drop in cooling performance. Other parts that should also be replaced following a compressor failure include the accumulator or receiver/dryer, and the orifice tube or expansion valve. The former contains a bag of desiccant that traps moisture and acts as a filter to protect the system. A new orifice tube or expansion valve is recommended because the small hole in this metering device can become easily plugged with debris. An aftermarket "variable orifice tube" can improve low-speed cooling. EVACUATING & RECHARGING THE AIR CONDITIONING SYSTEM After the compressor has been installed and the hoses are reconnected, the A/C system must be thoroughly evacuated with a vacuum pump to pull out air and moisture. If not purged from the system, air will reduce cooling efficiency. Moisture will react with refrigerant oil and produce acids and sludge. Moisture can also freeze and plug the expansion valve causing noise, restrictions or a complete blockage. A pump capable of achieving high vacuum must be used to pull out all of the contaminants. When air is pulled out of the system, it creates a vacuum that causes residual moisture to boil and evaporate. For this to occur, the vacuum pump must be capable of pulling at least 29 in. Hg of vacuum throughout the evacuation process (which normally takes about 30 minutes). One of the best ways to monitor the evacuation process is with a Thermistor Vacuum Gauge that reads in microns (one inch of Mercury equals 25,400 microns). It takes a highly accurate instrument to measure vacuum because even a little pressure left in the system can prevent all the residual moisture from boiling out. Only a 1/2 inch of mercury of pressure (12,700 microns)

can reduce the boiling point of water by more than 20 degrees F. Pulling out the last fraction of an inch of pressure is the most critical step in the evacuation process to ensure complete removal of all air and moisture. After pulling a deep vacuum on an A/C system, close all valves and shut off the vacuum pump. A slow rise in pressure (which you can see on the Thermistor Vacuum Gauge) will occur as the residual moisture continues to boil off inside the system. Pulling additional vacuum will get rid of this moisture. The evacuation will not be complete until the system can maintain a stable vacuum reading below 700 microns for at least three minutes. The time it takes to completely evacuate an A/C system can be reduced by preconditioning the evaporator prior to hooking up the vacuum pump. Preconditioning raises the temperature so the moisture will boil off faster. The easiest way to raise the temperature of the evaporator is to run the engine with the heater on HOT in the RECIRC mode. Turn the blower fan to HI and close all doors and windows. When the engine reaches normal operating temperature, the evaporator will be thoroughly preheated and ready to evacuate. If you have difficulty maintaining a stable deep vacuum, there may be a leak in the A/C system, the vacuum pump or the equipment connections. Leak testing should be done prior to evacuating the system because evacuation is not always a reliable way to locate or even identify a small leak in an A/C system. Seals and O-rings that leak under pressure may move under evacuation and not leak. Finally, recharge the system with the recommended amount of refrigerant and compressor oil. Do not overcharge and do not add too much oil. Check cooling performance to verify that everything is working properly and that the new compressor is doing its job.

COMPRESSOR CONDENSER - A/C Compressor & Condenser Inspection,

Defects, & Compressor Replacement

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How does an air conditioner compressor and condensing coil work? What are the components of the outdoor compressor/fan-coil unit on an air conditioner? Air conditioner compressor problem diagnosis & repair guide Loss of air conditioner or refrigerator cooling capacity When is a compressor at or near end of its life?

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This article discusses the how the air conditioning compressor-condenser unit works and describes the detection of defects in air conditioning compressor and condensing units, including evaluation of air conditioner compressor noises, hard starting, lost cooling capacity, and detection of a burned out compressor or A/C compressors at or near end of their life. Maintenance tips including attention to compressor support pads and avoiding air conditioning refrigerant leaks are addressed. Initial, simple diagnostic checks of the air conditioning compressor are also described at Compressor failure diagnosis. describes the major components of an air conditioning system. Sketches and photographs are provided, and common defects for each A/C component are listed along with visual or other clues that may suggest a problem or probable failure of each components. We explain how an air conditioning service technician will diagnose certain common air conditioning system failures or defects. We include photographs to assist readers in recognizing cooling system defects.

If your air conditioning or heat pump system has lost its cooling capacity or won't start see REPAIR GUIDE for AIR CONDITIONERS. See How to determine the cooling capacity of air conditioning equipment if the system seems to be working but is inadequate to cool your building. Contact us to suggest text changes and additions and, if you wish, to receive online listing and credit for that contribution. Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved. Information Accuracy & Bias Pledge is at below-left. Use page top links to major topics or use links at the left of each page to navigate within topics and documents at this website. Green links show where you are in a document series or at this website.

How do Air Conditioning Compressors Work?

The (usually) outdoor half of a typical air conditioning system is a unit containing the refrigerant compressor and condensing coil. The air conditioning compressor motor is a

pump which draws heat laden refrigerant gas from the building's indoor components (evaporator coil and air handler), and compresses the low pressure refrigerant gas to high pressure and higher temperature. The high pressure high temperature refrigerant gas enters the condensing coil where it is cooled to a liquid state by a fan blowing outside air across the condensing coil or by immersion of the condensing coil in cooling water. The heat produced in these steps is transferred to the outside by a fan which blows outside air across the condensing coil. The liquid refrigerant is then able to return to the indoor components for cooling and dehumidifying the building interior. The diagnosis and repair of various defects in the air conditioning compressor/condenser unit are discussed in detail using the links provided at the left of this page. Here is a little more detail about the components of the compressor/condenser unit:

What are the Components of the Outdoor Portion of a Central Air Conditioning System - the Air Conditioning Compressor Unit?
1. The Air Conditioning Compressor Itself - on residential units the A/C compressor motor is most often a hermetic motorcompressor combined in a single sealed unit like the Carrier(TM) unit shown at above left. Sketch from Carson Dunlop. If a ductless split-system is installed an outside compressor unit is still required, typically looking like the Sanyo(TM) unit shown at the top of this page. The compressor is a basically a pump which moves refrigerant gas to the compressor via the larger refrigerant "suction line" returning it from the inbuilding air handler and evaporator coil. How does an air conditioning compressor motor work?

The air conditioning or heat pump compressor compresses the incoming refrigerant to a high pressure gas and moves that gas into the condensing coil described just below. Typically a piston moves up and down inside of a cylinder inside the compressor motor, drawing in refrigerant gas on the down stroke of the piston, and compressing the refrigerant gas on the up stroke of the piston. (Some refrigeration compressors such as those made by Frigidaire used a rotary compressor design that we found durable and powerful enough to lead us to salvage and re-use these motors for other purposes. The refrigerant gas leaves the compressor at high pressure and at high temperature (since compressing a gas will raise its temperature). In most air conditioning or heat pump compressors, a piston moves up and down to draw in and then compress refrigerant gas, moving refrigerant vapor from the incoming low side to the outgoing high side of the compressor. The refrigerant gas leaving the compressor (and entering the condensing coil) will contain both heat that the refrigerant absorbed at the evaporator coil (heat from air in living space of the building), and additional heat produced at the compressor by the process of compressing the gas. The refrigerant gas is thus heat laden with sensible heat from the living area and compressor heat from the compressor motor. Low side and high side refer to the low-pressure and high-pressure areas of the air conditioning equipment and are defined in more detail at SEER RATINGS & OTHER DEFINITIONS where we also explain sensible heat and other air conditioning terms. Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Theory: In an air conditioning system, pressure is used to change (increase) the vaporization point (state change from liquid to gas) or condensation point (state change from gas to liquid) of the refrigerant. On the A/C system's high side, the condensation point must be some temperature above ambient outdoor air temperature (if air is being used to cool the condensing coil) or condensation of the refrigerant gas back to a liquid will not occur. Creation of high side & low side in a refrigeration system: The restriction in refrigerant flow created by the thermostatic expansion valve (TEV, discussed below) located close to the evaporator coil (cooling coil) allows the compressor to raise the pressure and increase the temperature at which the refrigerant (coolant) will change state (from liquid to gas in the cooling coil, and from gas back to liquid in the condensing coil). This restriction in refrigerant flow at the TEV is what allows the compressor a pressure difference between the high side and low sides of the system. Evaporator coil is defined at A/C COMPONENTS and discussed further at AIR HANDLER UNITS. TEVs are discussed at THERMOSTATIC EXPANSION VALVES. State changes of refrigerant are what remove heat: Refrigeration systems rely on two state changes of the refrigerant: gas to liquid, and liquid back to a gas. It is

these state changes of the refrigerant that move sensible heat from one side of the air conditioning system to the other: by absorbing BTUs of heat during evaporation (in the evaporator coil) and by releasing BTUs of heat during condensation (in the condenser coil). R12 refrigerant has a boiling point of -21 degF (change of state from liquid to gas vapor) and R22 has a boiling point of -41 degF. State change of refrigerant gas to liquid: The state change of the air conditioning refrigerant from a high pressure high temperature gas back to a liquid occurs inside the outdoor condensing coil. This state change (gas to liquid) releases energy in the form of heat which is blown into outdoor air (or transferred into water). Note: the compressor has to produce high enough output pressure that the gas moving through the condensing coil moves at a good velocity in order to scrub the entire condensing coil tubing surface and thus transfer its heat out through the condensing coil tubing into ambient air (or water). State change of refrigerant liquid to gas: the state change from a liquid refrigerant to a low pressure gas occurs in the indoor evaporator or cooling coil, absorbing energy in the form of heat (the heat in indoor air being blow across the evaporator coil), thus moving heat from the indoor air into the refrigerant gas in the system. So summing up this theory and practice of air conditioning, the job of the air conditioning compressor is to reduce pressure on the low side (cooling side) of the system and to increase pressure on the high side (warming side) of the system. These pressure differences move refrigerant through the system and enable it to change states from liquid to gas (at the TEV and in the evaporator coil) and from gas to liquid (in the condensing coil). This process moves heat (absorbed by the evaporator coil inside the cooling or refrigerated area) through the condenser coil and into outside air (or water). Special oil used in air conditioning & refrigeration compressor motors Air conditioning and refrigeration compressors use a special oil which does not react with the refrigerant liquid or gas in the system. The oil may mix and travel with the refrigerant however, and some cooling systems are designed for deliberate movement of the compressor oil in order to lubricate some parts such as refrigerant metering valves or compressor valves. 2. Refrigerant lines: The larger diameter refrigerant suction line connects the indoor evaporator coil outlet to the compressor inlet. The larger refrigerant line (located on the low side of the system) reduces system pressure and causes vaporization of the refrigerant (so that sensible heat is absorbed and the suction line feels cool to the touch). Refrigerant returning to the compressor from the evaporator coil and

through the refrigerant low pressure suction line, is in the form of a low pressure, low temperature gas. Most air conditioning compressors are designed only to pump gas vapors, not liquid refrigerant (which could damage compressor internal parts). The refrigerant gas entering the compressor at its inlet port is said to be heat laden, that is, it was at a low-enough temperature to have absorbed heat from the evaporator coil in the living area. The smaller-diameter high pressure refrigerant lines connect the compressor outlet and the condensing coil inlet and also move refrigerant liquid in it's cooled, condensed and now liquid state from the outlet of the condensing coil to the thermal expansion valve (basically a refrigerant metering device) and the evaporator coil inlet in the air handler unit in the building. This smaller (in diameter) refrigerant piping or tubing (located on the high side of the air conditioning system) reduces volume and thus increases pressure and temperature in the lines (so that sensible heat can be transferred to ambient outdoor air or water if a water-cooled air conditioner system is in use). Service valves or ports are usually present on the refrigeration lines near the compressor. to permit testing the condition of the air conditioning system and permit removal, replacement, or additions to the refrigerant in the system.


Condensing coil (shown at left) receives high pressure refrigerant gas from the compressor and cools this refrigerant gas back to a liquid state. Sketch from Carson Dunlop.

4. Outdoor cooling fan moves outdoor air across the condensing coil to cool it and assist in condensing the high pressure, high temperature refrigerant gas back into a liquid.

It is this process which completes the transfer of heat through the refrigerant from indoor air to outdoor air as the compressor/condenser unit compresses and then cools the refrigerant back to a liquid. 5. Electrical shut-off switch(es) for service at the unit are provided to permit maintenance and repair of the equipment. Circuit breaker(s) at the electrical panel protect the circuit supplying power to the air conditioning system. These components are discussed in detail throughout this website using the links at the left of these pages.

Minimum Air Conditioner Compressor Unit Observations for an Air Conditioner Report
Example home inspection report language for an air conditioning compressor: The compressor and fan operated normally. The rated cooling capacity, estimated age and general condition of the unit are reported below. OR ... We did not operate this equipment because ... so you should ... [text inserted by inspector]

How to diagnose and fix an air conditioning system that is not working

If your air conditioning system won't work, follow our diagnostic guides

At LOST COOLING CAPACITY, our focus is on the case in which the air conditioning system seems to be "running" but not enough cool air, or no cool air at all is being delivered to the occupied space. Sketch from Carson Dunlop. At OPERATING DEFECTS we take you through the major air conditioning problem symptoms and how to get the air conditioning system working again. At A/C - HEAT PUMP CONTROLS & SWITCHES we explain the many electrical switches and controls that control an air conditioner or heat pump system. You'll need to check these if your air conditioner won't start.

List of air conditioning system diagnostic articles: See our complete list of air conditioning system diagnostic and repair guide articles just below. Since the failure of an air conditioner to turn on, loss of air conditioner cooling capacity, reduced air conditioning output temperatures, loss of cool air supply, or even loss of air flow entirely can be due to a variety of problems with one or more components of an air conditioner or air conditioning system, after reviewing the lost air conditioner cooling diagnosis procedures described in this article, be sure to also review the diagnostic procedures at each of the individual air conditioning diagnosis and repair major topics listed just below. To return to our air conditioning and refrigeration home page go to AIR

If your air conditioning or heat pump system has lost its cooling capacity or won't start, or if your air conditioning electrical bill has increased even though the system "on" time has not changed, select one or more of the diagnostic articles listed below.

air conditioner controls and switches begin here if your A/C won't start. Here's an important tip: most refrigeration problems, in air conditioners, refrigerators, or freezers, are electrical, not mechanical. In air conditioning school, we used to drive out and collect abandoned refrigerators that people were tossing out during our community's spring cleanup week. Taking these appliances back into the shop we found that almost always the problem that had caused the owner to dispose of their air conditioner or freezer was in an electrical connection or electrical control. So it's worth checking out switches and controls on an air conditioner before replacing more costly components. OPERATING DEFECTS: major air conditioning problem symptoms and how to get the air conditioning system working again,e.g. compressor or fan noises, failure to start, and inadequate cool air volume LOST COOLING CAPACITY: what to do when not enough cool air comes out of the system o What to check first if there is no cool air or not enough cool air o Compressor failure diagnosis: basic checks of the air conditioner compressor o Ducts & Air Handler diagnosis: basic checks of the indoor air handler (blower), air ducts, and filter systems COMPRESSOR CONDENSER: problems with air conditioner compressor/condenser units. Examples of signs of a failing air conditioner compressor include hard starting or increased electrical bills when the A/C system is running. See the links at page left, including BURNED-OUT COMPRESSOR and HARD STARTING COMPRESSOR MOTORS, and also MOTOR OVERLOAD RESET SWITCH. AIR HANDLER UNIT: problems with the air handler, air filters, and the cooling coil itself. If the fan in the air handler unit is not running, also see MOTOR OVERLOAD RESET SWITCH. DUCT SYSTEM DEFECTS: problems with the air duct system, air filters, supply registers, return air registers A/C REFRIGERANT LEAK DETECTION: how to use a TIF5000 to detect air conditioning refrigerant gas leak A/C DIAGNOSTIC FAQs: air conditioning system diagnostic FAQs: Q&A about air conditioner repair - a detailed air conditioning system diagnostic checklist

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Thanks to Mark Cramer, Tampa Florida, for assistance in technical review of the "Critical Defects" section and for the photograph of the deteriorating gray Owens Corning flex duct in a hot attic. Mr. Cramer is a Florida home inspector and home inspection educator. Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission to use illustrations from their publication, The Illustrated Home which illustrates construction details and building components. Carson Dunlop provides home inspection education including the ASHI-adopted Home Inspection Training Program (home study course), publications such as the Home Reference Book, report writing materials including the Horizon report writer, and home inspection services. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Scott at SJM Inspect for suggesting the EPA air conditioning and IAQ document and for technical editing remarks regarding our air conditioning website, SJM Inspection Service LLC, serves the entire state of CT, 203-543-0447 or 203-877-4774 5/16/07 Thanks to Diaz, Domingo I. CIV NAVAIR Bldg.2118, rm. 131: - Ming Diaz, Great Falls, MD for editing help with the text about discharging air conditioning compressor capacitors - 3/07 DF]

Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair

Our recommended books about building & mechanical systems design, inspection, problem diagnosis, and repair, and about indoor environment and IAQ testing, diagnosis, and cleanup are at the InspectAPedia Bookstore. Also see our Book Reviews - InspectAPedia. Complete List of Air Conditioning & Heat Pump Design, Inspection, Repair Books at the InspectAPedia Bookstore. Modern Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, A. D. Althouse, C.H. Turnquist, A. Bracciano, Goodheart-Willcox Co., 1982 Principles of Refrigeration, R. Warren Marsh, C. Thomas Olivo, Delmar Publishers, 1979 "Air Conditioning & Refrigeration I & II", BOCES Education, Warren Hilliard (instructor), Poughkeepsie, New York, May - July 1982, [classroom notes from air conditioning and refrigeration maintenance and repair course attended by the website author] Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Technology, 5th Ed., William C. Whitman, William M. Johnson, John Tomczyk, Cengage Learning, 2005, ISBN 1401837654, 9781401837655 1324 pages

Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto, have provided us with (and we recommend) Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates' Technical Reference Guide to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment ($69.00 U.S.).