Your outdoor AC unit, also known as your condenser unit, is one of the most expensive parts of your home's air conditioning system. Proper maintenance can ensure that it lasts for years, but problems requiring professional attention can still crop up from time to time. Recognizing the symptoms of failures in your condenser can help you to know when to contact an HVAC professional to repair the problem before it becomes more serious.
What's in the Box?
Your AC system functions by using refrigerant to transport heat out of your home. The condenser unit plays several vital roles in this process. It is not a single piece of equipment, but rather a housing that groups together a few key components of the entire system. Your condenser will typically include your AC system's compressor, its condenser coils, a fan, and assorted plumbing and electronics to tie everything together. All of these components work together to release the heat from inside of your house into the outside environment.
Your compressor is the pump that makes the refrigerant cycle. Its purpose in the system is to (unsurprisingly) compress the refrigerant that is carrying heat from within your house. Compressing the refrigerant also heats it, making it much easier for it to release its heat into the environment later. Without your compressor, refrigerant would not flow through your system at all, and cooling would be impossible. A failing compressor will often be noisy and may even cause the entire condenser unit to rattle or shake. Once a compressor fails entirely, your AC will no longer function.
Condenser Coil Issues
After the refrigerant is compressed, it passes through the condenser coils. The purpose of these coils is to allow the refrigerant to shed its heat into the environment, cooling it and returning it to a liquid phase. It is helpful to think of the refrigerant as a truck that is fully loaded with packets of heat from within your house. It "delivers" that heat to the condenser coils before going back inside to grab some more. If it can't deliver its payload, then there is no room for more heat, and the system will not function properly. If your condenser coils are leaking or damaged, your AC system will likely blow warmer air or be forced to run for longer to cool your home.
Blower Motor Problems
Your condenser unit is also equipped with a large fan. This is important, since the interior of your condenser unit will warm up as the refrigerant delivers its payload of heat to the condenser coils. The purpose of the fan on the condenser unit is to keep air moving through and away from the coils, ultimately dispersing this heat into the environment. If the fan fails, the condenser coils will no longer be able to work efficiently. This often leads to symptoms that are similar to condenser coil failures since heat is no longer being efficiently released from the refrigerant.
Your condenser unit has multiple potential points of failure, but a bad or failing component does not mean that the whole unit needs to be replaced. If you suspect an issue with the outdoor unit, contacting professional AC repair services is the best way to determine the extent of the problem and the best course of action to repair it.