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My air conditioner Keeps Turning On and Off – is this ok?

When an air conditioner (AC) turns on and off quickly and repeatedly, we call it short cycling. It’s not uncommon, but it does indicate a problem that shouldn’t be ignored.

A short cycling air conditioner results in an immediate increase in energy usage ($$$). In the long term, it could lead to permanent damage of your cooling unit, which means a costly replacement. Short cycling also could shave years off your air conditioner’s life. 

Have one of our HVAC pros inspect your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system as soon as possible. A SuterHero will come out and diagnose the issue for you, and explain the best repair options for you. As a general rule, the quicker you repair this issue, the lower the repair cost. Contact us as soon as you notice an issue!

There are several possible causes of a short cycling AC. We’ve asked our HVAC technicians to for the most common ones and what can be done to fix them:

Low Refrigerant

Refrigerant is the coolant that flows through your system. It helps to absorb heat and cool the air inside your home. You may know it by one of its brand names—Freon®. The EPA has banned the production and importation of R-22 refrigerant as of this year. This is good news, as R-22 is an ozone-depleting substance. Air conditioners using R-22 are perfectly safe, as long as they are properly maintained. If, however, your system requires additional coolant, your technician will use reclaimed or recycled R-22, or may even suggest using the safer replacement R-410A.

Low refrigerant negatively impacts compressor-pressure levels. This triggers your compressor’s low-pressure control, shutting down the compressor. Next, pressure rises and triggers the air conditioner to restart (short cycling).

A low refrigerant level indicates a leak in your air conditioner.

Have you ever seen frost or ice built up on air conditioner coils? Low refrigerant causes frozen coils, which isn’t generally a DIY fix. However, one of our HVAC professionals can find the leak and prevent further damage.

Dirty Air Filter

Dirty air filters are one of the most common problems with air conditioners we see. Luckily, it’s also the most easily remedied, especially for our Siouxland customers who have a Comfort & Convenience maintenance plan! Dirty filters restrict airflow, which creates many problems, including frozen AC coils. As a result of that frozen coil, your air conditioner malfunctions: short cycle. Change your filters regularly to avoid any issues, or sign up for our Comfort & Convenience HVAC Maintenance Plan and we can check and change that filter for you!

Thermostat Location

Did you know that your thermostat acts as the sensor for your air conditioner? It monitors air temperature and tells the AC when to kick on. If the thermostat is in a hot or cold spot in your home – for example, near a window, too close to a vent, or near the stove – it’s going to give misleading information to your air conditioning system. 

We visited a home that was recently remodeled, and the thermostat ended up just a few feet from the kitchen stove. The thermostat was telling the heating and cooling systems that it was several degrees warmer in the house that it really was, resulting in the air conditioner running harder than it needed to and freezing out most rooms in the home!

The inverse is often true, as well. If the thermostat is placed next to a vent, the air temp drops as soon as the air conditioner kicks on; then the thermostat tells the AC that it has reached the desired temperature and almost immediately shuts off. As soon as the cool air is no longer flowing through the vent, the thermostat realizes your home is actually still too warm and triggers your air conditioner to start up again. This is short cycling. Make sure your thermostat is located in a central location away from direct sunlight, vents, or appliances – and if you need it relocated, just ask us!

Oversized Air Conditioner

HVAC Oversizing happens more than you probably think – especially since there’s a “bigger is better” mentality as heating and cooling units go. An air conditioning unit that’s too big for your home short cycles (shut down and start up frequently) because it cools your home too rapidly, while failing to dehumidify it correctly.

Typical complaints of HVAC oversizing include: hot and cold spots in your home, and unexpectedly high energy bills. If your air conditioner was recently installed, talk to the technicians who installed it to see what they can do to help you.

Our sales staff and technicians are trained to perform a heat load calculation in order to determine the proper size of heating and cooling system for your Iowa home. Not sure if your current system is appropriately sized? Give us a call and we can send a technician to you ASAP!

Short cycling can create or indicate a variety of problems with your air conditioner. If you notice your air conditioner turning off and on in quick succession, call one of our HVAC professionals at (712) 252-3007 or request an appointment online to assess the situation. Remember, if properly maintained, a good air conditioner will cool efficiently and last for years to come.