It’s never ideal to spend the summer without an air conditioning unit, but 2021 has already been especially cruel to those without AC.
Around 4,000 new temperature records have been set this year. What’s more, phenomena known as “heat domes” are especially common this year. These domes catch rising hot air in the upper atmosphere and push it back downward, projecting heat waves across the United States.
When temperatures are hotter and humidity is higher, your AC unit has to work harder to cool your home. This extra stress can occasionally cause system failures, leaving you defenseless against the raging sun.
Dramatic as it may sound, these failures can be dangerous. Extreme heat led to the deaths of around 12,000 people in the U.S. between 2010 and 2020 — that’s more casualties than any other weather-related hazard.
So what happens if your AC unit fails? Below, we’ll look at steps you can take to troubleshoot the unit on your own, and some handy methods to keep yourself cool and safe in the meantime.
How to Check Your Air Conditioner
Check the Thermostat
Thermostat malfunctions can often cause an entire air conditioner to spontaneously shut itself down. Fortunately, it’s also an easy fix. If your AC goes out unexpectedly, these are the first solutions you should try.
- Thermostat Hard Reset: Remove the thermostat battery, and wait a couple of minutes, and then put it back in. This will force the thermostat to hard-reset itself. If your AC turns on after that, the problem was a mechanical failure in the thermostat. You should now be good to go.
- Dead Thermostat Battery: Sometimes a dead thermostat battery can cause the entire air conditioning unit to shut down. Installing fresh batteries may fix the problem.
- Reset the AC Unit Power: If the previous two steps don’t work, you can reset the entire connection between the thermostat and the AC unit by turning off the AC unit itself, waiting several minutes, and restarting it.
Circuit Breaker and Power
If all three of the previous steps failed to get the air moving again, then the problem most likely doesn’t lie in the thermostat. Another common AC unit malfunction involves its electrical power.
Because AC units draw so much power, sometimes they trip the circuit breaker — especially when they’re working overtime in hot, humid weather. Check your breaker by flipping the AC switch off and on again. If the unit powers up, you should be good to go.
Electrical, Water, and Other Damage
Sometimes the problem lies in long-term damage from electronics or moisture. Inspect your AC unit for rusty or leaky tubes, smoking machinery, or broken pieces. If you spot this sort of damage, it’s time to call a professional AC repair technician.
If your AC unit is on the ground outside, there’s also the possibility that the airway is blocked. This often occurs after heavy winds and storms. Brush and other detritus can get blown on top of the unit, preventing it from drawing fresh air. This fix is as simple as clearing space around the AC unit.
How to Stay Cool When Your AC Unit Fails
Of course, sometimes the problem is more complicated. If you wind up periodically without air conditioning due to mechanical failure (or a temporary break to save money — AC causes electricity costs to rise 35-42% after all), it’s important to take extra precautions and protect the physical health of yourself, your family, and your pets. Long exposure to hot weather comes paired with a number of serious health risks, including:
- Heat Stroke: When the body can’t control its temperature, it can skyrocket to 106 degrees or higher in as little as 10 minutes. Heat stroke is the most dangerous heat-related health condition and can cause slurred speech, confusion, seizures, loss of consciousness, and even death.
- Heat Exhaustion: The body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Characterized by nausea, headache, dizziness, thirst, irritability, and weakness. Prone to occur in the elderly, those with hypertension, and workers exposed to hot environments for long periods of time.
- Dehydration: When the body loses fluids faster than it can regain them, it can’t provide adequate fluids to perform regular functions. Symptoms of dehydration include decreased urination, dry mouth, quickened heartbeat, and headaches.
- Heat Syncope: When your body is dehydrated or fails to acclimate to high temperatures, physical taxation such as standing for a long period or quickly rising from a lying position can cause dizziness or fainting spells.
- Heat Cramps and Heat Rash: Heavy sweating can irritate your skin causing heat rash, as well as deplete your body’s salt and moisture resulting in muscle cramps.
Below, we’ll look at methods of keeping cool when air conditioning isn’t available.
Cooling your home isn’t just about keeping the cold air in — it’s also about keeping the humidity out. Most people instinctively open their windows the minute their air conditioner shuts down. Unfortunately, that step is counterproductive — it will only let hot, humid air in while exposing your home to the heat of direct sunlight. Instead of opening your windows, draw your shades and close your blinds. The sun won’t heat your interior as quickly.
Once the sun sets, open your windows to let the hot air out and the cooler nighttime air in.
During the day, it’s especially important to wear cool clothes made of breathable fabrics like cotton, linen, or jerseys so that the heat can escape your body. Avoid fabrics that trap your body heat in a pocket such as nylon, acrylic, or polyester.
Staying hydrated will also allow your body to effectively regulate its temperature. During the summer months, you’ll likely need to drink more water than usual in order to replenish the fluids you’ve lost through sweat. Experts recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces of water per day (ex: a 200 lb man would drink 100 oz of water a day).
Once you’ve achieved a cool body temperature, try to keep it. Use ice packs, dip your feet in a tub of cold water, and avoid frequent trips in and out of the house. Don’t forget about your pets, either! In extreme heat, pets shouldn’t be left outside for long periods of time. When they are outside, make sure they have access to shade and fresh, cool water.
Fans are a little deceptive because they don’t actually lower the temperature, but they’re still exceptional at removing moisture from your skin (which will make you feel cooler). They’re also great at pushing cold air from one location to another. Take advantage of this by filling a tub with ice water and setting it in front of your fan to create a cool breeze.
As we mentioned earlier, keeping out the humidity is half the battle when it comes to staying cool. A dehumidifier keeps the air dry and comfortable. It’s always a good idea to keep a large one in the room your family spends the most time in for emergencies.
Preventive Maintenance and When to Call an HVAC Specialist
Lack of routine maintenance is the single most common reason an AC unit fails. It’s always easier, cheaper, and more effective to stay up to date on AC maintenance than to schedule repairs after a break-down. To regularly care for your AC unit, you should:
- Replace your air filters monthly.
- Replace drain lines regularly.
- Check refrigerant levels at the start of the summer
- Have your AC unit professionally inspected on a yearly basis.
When all of the above fail you, however, it’s time to call a professional. Snyder Heating & Air Conditioning has been helping overheated families take a breath of fresh, cool air since 1973. You can contact us with service requests and questions at (904) 441-8476 or request a free quote on our website. Let us protect you from the summer heat today!