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AC condensing unit: repair or replace?

The condensing unit condenses the refrigerant vapor in the air into liquid refrigerant, which provides a cooling effect throughout your home.

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AC condensing unitsThe two primary components in central air conditioning design are the condenser and the evaporator. The condensing unit condenses the refrigerant vapor in the air into liquid refrigerant, which provides a cooling effect throughout your home.

How does a condensing unit work?

The condensing unit is located outside the house and is often called the outside unit. The evaporator is inside the house and is commonly known as the indoor unit or the air handler.

The condenser coils concentrate the vaporized refrigerant into a liquid. The condenser fan circulates the liquid refrigerant throughout the house, reducing the temperature inside. The fan also ensures the air cools the rooms in the house evenly.

The evaporator converts the refrigerant back into vapor form so it can return to the condenser and the cycle can repeat itself.

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A thermostat keeps the house near the desired temperature by turning the AC on when the house gets too warm and off when the house gets too cold. Larger houses may have multiple AC units to ensure adequate cooling capacity.

Maintenance and installation

The condensing unit may require protection from the weather, depending on your specific climate. Some homeowners in cold climates cover the condenser when the AC unit is not in use, although the condenser is typically resistant to low temperatures.

Condensers usually don't require protection from rain, which can even help clean the unit. A hard covering can be used to protect the condenser from damage in areas that are prone to hailstorms. 

A contractor will need to install the condenser on a level surface to allow the coils to condense the vapor properly, meaning this home-cooling unit is usually mounted on a concrete slab.

It's important to rake and remove any leaves around the condenser to prevent them from getting sucked into the unit and blocking airflow. You may also need to pull or trim weeds near the condenser to prevent them from growing into the unit.

Some types of insects, including ants, bees and wasps, will need to be controlled to prevent their nests from interfering with the condenser's operation.

You will also need to clean the condenser periodically to ensure it continues to operate properly. 

Being prepared for any problems with your condenser is an important part of keeping the unit under warranty, allowing you to save money in the long term. You must compare the repair estimate to the cost of installing a new unit to determine which course of action is most economical, especially when the condenser requires major repairs. 

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Discuss with a professional contractor any issues you're having with your condensing unit. He can provide you an estimate on repairs and on the cost of new AC unit. 

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Photo credit: mattwitmer via Compfight CC.