AC Running but Not Cooling Your House? Expert Solutions for Northern California

Summers are my favorite time of year here in Northern California. I love the intense heat, but welcome slipping into my cool, air conditioned home after being out in the sunshine. There’s really nothing more refreshing in the summer months—other than an ice cold glass of lemonade, I suppose.

Lemonade, however, sure isn’t going to keep you cool if your air conditioner isn’t up to snuff. During the summer months, I get a lot of calls about ACs that are running but not cooling houses effectively. This sort of problem usually develops gradually, but it often becomes most apparent around mid-summer when temperatures in NorCal reach record highs and air conditioners are working overtime.  

If you’re finding that the temperature in your home isn’t going down when your AC is on, listen up. I’m going to explain the possible reasons why your running AC isn’t cooling your house—and offer some expert advice so you can survive the summer heat.

Why Your AC Is Running but Not Cooling Your House Efficiently

air conditioner running but not working

Hot dog, Californians need a working air conditioner.

Perhaps you’ve noticed your energy bill steadily increasing, or you can feel that your home just isn’t getting as cool as it should—or isn’t getting cool at all. At this point, you’ve probably checked to see if your AC is still running, and everything seems to be humming along just fine. So what’s the problem? Well, it could be a number of things.

Here are the potential reasons why your seemingly-running AC isn’t cooling your home like it should:

  • Reason #1: The filter needs to be cleaned or changed. Filters can get clogged with all sorts of junk, from hair to dust to particles from your home. If you haven’t cleaned your filter in the last month, or if it looks visibly congested, this could be your problem.
  • Reason #2: The outside unit is clogged. The filter isn’t the only part of your AC that gets grimy. If the evaporator, condenser, filters, and coil are clogged with leaves or particles from the outdoors, your air conditioning unit can’t properly circulate cooled air. When this happens, it becomes strained and won’t be able to effectively cool your home.
  • Reason #3: Your evaporator coil is frozen or dirty. Sometimes, the part of your AC unit that cools the air can freeze completely and block airflow, preventing it from entering your home. Dirt and dust can also prevent it from cooling effectively.
  • Reason #4: Your ducts are leaking. Your ducts are what deliver cool air into your home, so if they’re cracked or improperly sealed, cool air will escape before it gets a chance to enter your house.
  • Reason #5: The refrigerant is leaking or is undercharged. Refrigerant is integral to your AC system because it’s what absorbs the heat out of the air. If it’s undercharged or leaking, there won’t be enough of it to effectively keep your house cool.
  • Reason #6: A breaker is tripped. It’s possible that the problem isn’t with your HVAC system at all—it could just be a tripped breaker. Sometimes when your AC is working extra hard in the summer, it trips a circuit breaker. If the tripped breaker is the one that powers your outside unit, it won’t be able to cool the air. If this happens, the inside unit will be blowing warm air into your home.

What to Do When Your AC Is Running but Not Cooling

As you can tell, there are a number of potential reasons why your AC is running but not cooling your house. While it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution and call a trained professional to come and inspect your HVAC system to determine where the problem is coming from, there are a few things you can safely try yourself first.

Here are a few DIY air conditioning repair tips to try:

  • Tip #1: Flip your circuit breaker. Try flipping the circuit breaker that powers your HVAC system. If it did get tripped, this should fix it. If it trips again, however, there’s a bigger electrical issue—call an electrician right away.
  • Tip #2: Clean your filter. Once you’ve removed your filter, use a vacuum to suck out the bits and bobs clogging it up and then wash it in warm water with a little soap. Make sure it’s completely dry before reinstalling it. Be sure to do this every month to ensure proper airflow and keep your AC in good shape. Of course, you can also have a professional take care of this for you and set you up on a filter change schedule so you don’t have to worry about fitting it into your busy schedule.
  • Tip #3: Wash the condenser. The condenser is the outside portion of your HVAC unit that gets clogged with leaves and debris. Turn the power to the outside unit off, and brush away any visible leaves and particles. Then give it a gentle spray with your outdoor hose to clean it so that air can circulate more efficiently. If you are not well-acquainted with your AC, you’ll likely want to call the pros for this too. They may even be able to show you how to clean it properly so you can do it safely and confidently on your own in the future.

If your AC still doesn’t seem to be cooling more efficiently after performing these troubleshoots, it’s time to call an experienced professional who is seasoned in HVAC repair. They’ll be able to inspect your entire unit, from the refrigerant to the ducts, to determine the cause of the problem safely. Tampering with the ductwork, refilling the refrigerant, or trying to unfreeze a coil are not things we recommend for people to do themselves as they can be potentially dangerous and you may end up causing more costly damage to your HVAC system.

Tampering with the ductwork, refilling the refrigerant, or trying to unfreeze a coil are not things we recommend for people to do themselves as they can be potentially dangerous and you may end up causing more costly damage to your HVAC system.

I always say that if life gives you lemons, make lemonade—but like I said before, that just won’t be enough to keep you cool if your AC isn’t functioning properly. Even if you love Northern California’s extreme heat like I do, having a cool home to take refuge in is key to surviving and thriving in our sunny summer season.

Something isn’t right if your AC is running but not cooling your house. Contact the trained HVAC professionals at Bell Brothers to schedule an evaluation and repair today.

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