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Why Does Ice Form on Air Conditioning Coils?


Air conditioning problems are quite common this time of year for obvious reasons. Our AC systems are put to the test each and every day as temperatures climb into the triple digits and beyond sometimes. Ideally, everything will work as intended, but in the event it doesn’t, you need to move quickly. Otherwise, an unexpected breakdown could leave you without proper air conditioning, and turn you home into an oven in the process.

Among the more subtle signs that something is wrong is the sight of frost or ice on the coils of the air conditioner. It may not sound like much – after all, aren’t air conditioners supposed to be cold – but unless a professional deals with it, it could cause serious problems with your system.

Why It’s a Problem

The coils are the heart of the air conditioner: the place in the process where the air is actually cooled. Refrigerant enters the coils in pressurized liquid form. There, it expands into gaseous form, pulling heat from the surrounding air in the process. The cooled air can then be blown into your home with a fan.

When ice forms, it throws that process off. Sometimes, the ice represents lost cooling potential: wasted in the system itself instead of going into the air you need cooled. But more importantly than that, the ice forms an insulating barrier between the refrigerant and the air it needs to cool. That forces the system to work harder to do its job, increasing the strain on the entire system and elevating the chances of a breakdown. Even worse, the ice will continue to expand, creating a spiraling deterioration of the system’s efficiency until something is done. The longer you wait, the more the damage is likely to cost.

What to Do About It

Ice can form on the coils for a number of reasons. The most common is leaking refrigerant, which throws off the delicate balance required to make air conditioning work. But that’s not the only cause. A clog in the filter can cause cold air to remain stuck in the system, causing ice to form. Problems with the fan or the fan motor can do the same thing, as can an obstruction blocking the external vents.

You might have noticed that none of these involve the coils themselves. Indeed, the frost or ice is almost always a symptom of the problem instead of the problem itself. That’s one of many reasons why you should never attempt to scrape the ice off of the coils. Since it doesn’t address the underlying issue, the ice will simply re-from. More importantly, you could damage the coils. In most cases fixing the cause of the ice is relatively simple: seal the leak and recharge the refrigerant, replace the clogged filter with a clean one, and so on. If you damage the coils, however, that simple repair job can become much more expensive. Only trained and licensed professionals should attempt to repair a faulty air conditioner.

Here in Fort Wayne, IN, quality air conditioning repair can be conducted by the pros at Collier’s Comfort.

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