Too Cold to Test the A/C?

Yes, it is that time of year already. Except for an occasional warm front, we are unlikely to be using our air conditioning systems. It also means that they are unlikely to be fully tested during a home inspection.

But why? There are a couple of reasons.

The primary reason that air conditioners are not operated in cold weather is that it can cause damage to the compressor. The oil used to lubricate the compressor is a heavier grade that is designed for use in warmer climates. In cold weather, the oil may not lubricate the compressor properly. The evaporator coil is also in danger of freezing up. It’s really that simple- the units are not designed to operate in cold weather.

A real-world example of this would be a former neighbor. The mother lived downstairs and preferred a warmer environment. The daughter, who lived upstairs, was quite the opposite. As heat rises, the daughter was constantly trying to cool things down. She was running the air conditioner non-stop in the sub-zero temperatures of February 2021. This A/C unit, a 2019 build, is in a constant state of repair and has more new parts than original at this point.

What’s the recommended safe temperature? 65° is a fair benchmark to use and ideally the temperature should remain above 60° for 2-3 days before testing. In other words, a high temperature of 63° when overnight lows are much cooler isn’t going to cut it. Some newer systems have a low ambient sensor that will prevent the unit from turning on below a set temperature.

But couldn’t you just run it for a bit to see if it works? We could- but there are two issues with this. First, the “you break it, you buy it” scenario comes into play. We’d rather not buy an A/C because we tested outside of the recommended parameters. Secondly, it would provide little helpful information. Testing an A/C when there is no heat load or humidity would not provide an accurate depiction of system performance. A system that blows cold air when it is cold outside should not be expected to do the same on a hot and humid day.

What’s a person to do if they are buying a home during periods of colder weather?

  • Review the Disclosures. Was it was disclosed as being in normal working order?
  • Review the inspection report for any other observations that were made. Is the hvac system well-kept or is a hvac professional already recommended?
  • Consider having a full evaluation by an hvac professionalespecially if the unit is 10+ years old or uses an older refrigerant, namely Freon or R-22.
  • Lastly, buy a home warranty.

It’s important to note that Heat Pump systems operate a bit differently. They can be tested in cooler temperatures, but the system performance should not be relied upon as a true indicator of how the system might perform in significantly warmer temperatures.

Author: Redbud Property Inspections | Steve Bennett

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