Blowing Hot and Cold: What to Do When the Climate’s Not Controlled

Of all of the dramatic and awe-inspiring developments of the modern era, surely climate control is high up there among the most beautiful. It can be a muggy 95 degrees Fahrenheit outside and yet, with a well-maintained air conditioner, it’s amazingly 74 and dry inside. In the winter, you can walk into a cozy 68 degree house after shoveling your -4 degree sidewalk. There truly isn’t much better in the whole world.

That’s why when your climate control system isn’t working, it sort of creates a bit of a panic. After all, you wouldn’t want to actually have to deal with -4 or 95 degree weather. That’s definitely a bummer. Luckily, a lot of the most common reasons for your forced air unit’s failure to do its duty can be easily DIY-ed.

Wielding Power Over Sun and Rain

Hey, there’s nothing unimpressive about what your friendly neighborhood HVAC expert can do when it comes to turning a brutal building into a climate-controlled structure, but you, too, can take a little bit of credit for keeping the weather under wraps. Before you call in your HVAC expert, a bit of troubleshooting can save you money and your repairman time.

Many of the problems with HVAC systems can be corrected at the filter, the condensation line or the breaker box. Let’s take a look at each issue in a bit of depth.

HVAC Filters are Your Worst Frenemy

When your climate control system kicks on, it immediately starts sucking air into the cold air return, pulling it across the air handler, which is either set to heat or cool. After a quick pass, that air is pushed out through the ducts, to be collected again by the cold air return and put through the ringer again.

As your air filter picks up more dust, hair and other airborne particulate, it gets harder for the air handler to suck air into the system. Eventually, you’ll find yourself in a position where the filter is so dirty that there’s almost no air flow and, therefore, no climate control. Strangely enough, most homeowners aren’t ever told how often to change their filters — the three month estimate on a lot of filter packages is a ridiculous overestimation of how long that filter will last.

Instead, HVAC experts recommend you check your filters at least once a month and replace them any time they start to look dirty. The higher your filter’s MERV rating, the more frequently it’ll need to be changed. This doesn’t mean you should seek out a filter with a low MERV rating, though. Too low of a MERV rating will leave your HVAC system vulnerable to dirt and dust collection inside the system, rather than on the filter. For most homes, a MERV of 7 or higher will filter out the stuff you really don’t want in the air, like mold spores, pollen and dust and protect your system.

If it’s been a while since you changed the filter and the system’s still kicking on, just blowing the wrong temperature, start at the filter. Change it, even if it’s only discolored. This can indicate that the tiny passages in the paper are clogged.

Awkward Conversations About Condensation

Plenty of people who are fairly hands-off when it comes to home maintenance don’t realize that their systems have something called a condensation line. This is essentially a tube that moves water from the air handler to a drain or outdoors, depending on the way your system is configured. Sometimes, your system will do something weird like kick on and off again rapidly or simply not cool properly as the only sign that your condensation line needs help.

In a modern HVAC system, the air from your cold air return is pulled across a special tent-shaped coil system that gets really cold when the gases inside are compressed. As that warm air passes and is cooled, it drops much of the liquid it was holding and that water collects in a pan below the coil. From there, the water goes into a dedicated line or vinyl tube, the condensation line, and out of the house.

When the condensation line is blocked, this process is disrupted. Some air handlers are designed to essentially stop working until the standing water is removed from the pan, others will simply spill everything into the floor, which is not a good time. This is why it’s usually recommended that you flush that condensation line every time you change your HVAC filter.

If you suspect a clogged condensation line, flushing it with straight vinegar or a diluted vinegar/ hot water mix can get the water out of the catch pan and restart the air conditioning party.

Have You Tried Turning it Off and Turning it Back On Again?

Hey, if it works for computers, televisions and all manner of electronics, turning it on and turning it off again should work on your air conditioner, should it? The truth is that your HVAC system is not your granddad’s system. There are plenty of computerized parts that are necessary for it to do its job property. When you’ve tried replacing the filter and you’ve cleaned the condensation line until it’s allowing water to flow free and neither of those things worked, it doesn’t hurt anything to reboot the system.

Most HVAC systems have at least two breakers in different parts of the house. Your air conditioner, for example, should have a double-wide breaker inside your main breaker box, as well as a breaker on the outside of the house. This outside breaker is housed in a little box of its own, hanging on the house very close to the outdoor unit.

Both of these need to be reset, since the problem could be anything from a computer that’s simply confused or a partially tripped breaker that was the result of a particularly windy night. Start by flipping the breaker inside your house to the “off” position, then go to the outside breaker box. Depending on the type of electricity interruption technology inside, you may just need to flip a switch, or it may require that you pull the fuse out and put it back in. Once you’ve done that, you can go back inside and turn the power in the main breaker box back to “on.”

Still Got Nothin’? Time to Call in the Calvary!

Anything beyond what’s explained in this blog is probably a bit more than a homeowner should be trying to fix on their own. HVAC systems are not only technically complicated, they’re sort of dangerous inside. But, hey, you’ve already got a great HVAC service in your HomeKeepr network that your Realtor has recommended! You’ll save time and get your power to control the indoor climate back in a snap — you’re totally winning today!