Protecting refrigeration and air conditioning systems from breakdown

The breakdown of air conditioning and refrigeration equipment can be a costly loss for a business or institution. Due to the design and location of this equipment, breakdowns not only occur at a greater frequency than other machinery, but the cost of repair tends to be higher.

These breakdowns can be classified into two categories – mechanical and electrical. Proper maintenance can help you avoid either of these disasters.

Mechanical breakdowns make up about 30-40% of air conditioning and refrigeration failures. Here are two ways to help avoid these types of breakdowns.

  • Have a lube analysis done whenever routine oil changes occur. Loss, lack of or contamination of lubricant directly results in the failure of mechanical parts.
  • Keep the condenser clean. Disassemble and thoroughly wash the condenser coils, especially the pollen buildup after the spring months. Dust and dirt in the coils can cause the motor to overheat and break down. Keeping the condensers in good condition extends the life of the motor and compressor units.

Electrical Failures are the greater risk, accounting for 60-70% of breakdowns. Taking the following precautions can help protect your equipment from voltage spikes, brownouts, power interruptions and even damage from lightning.

  • Install Transient Voltage Surge Suppression (TVSS) devices. These devices will work to block voltage spikes. Installing TVSS devices at each individual unit will be more cost effective than installing at the main electrical service entrance.
  • Make sure to properly ground your electrical system. Lightning has worse effects on systems that have been improperly grounded. The system should be set up with a single point and high quality ground.
  • Use start delay timers to prevent equipment from turning on and off too quickly and shortening the life of the motor and compressor.

The costs of protecting your air conditioning and refrigeration systems are nominal when compared to their value and the cost of major repairs. Practicing these maintenance procedures can provide effective protection against breakdowns and associated business downtime.

For a deeper resource on this topic, read this Locomotive article. And if you know other ways to help protect your refrigeration and air conditioning equipment from breakdowns, leave a comment below!

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© 2015 The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This article is intended for information purposes only. All recommendations are general guidelines and are not intended to be exhaustive or complete, nor are they designed to replace information or instructions from the manufacturer of your equipment. Contact your equipment service representative or manufacturer with specific questions.

33 comments

  • Thanks for the information. I had no idea that an air conditioning system could break down the way you said it could. Like you said, “proper maintenance can help you avoid either of these disasters”. That’s why it’s so important to bring an HVAC contractor in to take a look. I think I’ll do that this week!

  • I didn’t know that “mechanical breakdowns make up about 30-40% of air conditioning and refrigeration failures.” It would be important to follow your tips like having a lube analysis done. Thanks for tips I will have to look into these checkups.

  • You many not think much of it, but cleaning the condenser actually makes a difference in how your air conditioning unit performs. The article mentions pollen, but leaves are a very common obstruction of such units. If the weather gets warm enough, you also run the potential of catching leaves that are trapped in the condenser on fire. whether you do it yourself, or higher maintenance, always keep the fins clear.

    Eric | http://www.burksservice.net/services

  • Thanks for sharing these tips! Conducting a lube analysis is a good idea when performing maintenance on your AC unit. I normally keep some lube for the belt in my utility closet at home. I normally lube it up about 2 times a year, just to be sure. It keeps my unit running smoothly during the hot summer months that I experience in my area.

  • Properly grounding your a/c unit is really important. You should try to do anything you can to keep your air from failing on you. Thanks for sharing!

  • I agree! That sounds like an expensive fix! We get lots of lightning strikes where we live, and probably at least one or two houses during each storm gets hit and their TV, computer, or some sort of electrically powered device blows up. It would be a huge bummer if that happen to our house, but we are crossing our fingers. If it did go out, do you think we could just call the contractor that did it, or would we have to call a different company? http://www.blasenhauerhvac.com/air_conditioning_installation.html

  • I definitely think that cleaning the condenser would be a great idea. I will have to take mine apart this weekend, I have some spare time. I’m going to soak them overnight in distilled water, that should do the trick. Perhaps using some lubricant on the moving parts would also be helpful.

  • Thanks for pointing out the items that you need to be most aware of. I think that electrical problems are the ones that are the most frustrating. I definitely want to avoid those. I like the tip to use a delay timer to avoid shortening the life of the motor.

  • I’m sure that none of us want to walk into a hot home or business come the summer months. That is why it’s important to take care of your air conditioning units now and not wait until something breaks. Even by doing the two ways which you listed above, you are making sure that your units will not break. For larger problems, do be sure to hire someone who knows what they are doing.

  • If you have any kind of air conditioning unit, then you should always take care of it. The same goes with heating. Anyways, keeping the condenser clean is pretty vital for the unit to run properly. If you are unsure about doing it yourself, then you can always call someone to help you out.

  • It’s amazing how big of a difference proper maintenance and cleanings can make with the health of your air conditioner. Thanks for the reminder!

  • I have heard that the best maintenance I can perform on my AC unit is cleaning the condenser coils. However, I am not sure how exactly to do this. I don’t want to damage the coils. Are they something that I can spray off, or use a rag to clean?

  • I agree about how breakdowns can be very costly. They are especially bad during the hot summer months. I liked your tip to have a lube analysis done, as well as making sure to keep the condenser clean. I’ve seen how cleaning the condenser regularly can help the unit perform at its peak. Thanks for sharing.

  • Wow, I had no idea how often break downs happen with AC units. It seems to me though that most mechanical break downs and electric failures can be avoided with regular maintenance. It can be annoying to do sometimes, but it’s better to go through that than have to pay hundreds of dollars to have something fixed.

  • All the listed Ideas are Excellent ones. All our units at our plant are 460 vac, 3 phase. We have installed phase monitoring relays in the units and break the control circuit to shut the unit down on any phase or power loss.This protects the compressors,fans and all related 3 phase equipment.

  • Homeowners seem to have a hard time understanding the value in a service plan with an HVAC company. It can go a long way in protecting the mechanical equipment of the HVAC system.

  • Surge protection devices can also be installed in residential and commercial service electrical panels. these will provide surge protection and transient surge protection for all motors and branch circuits connected from the service panel.It is also a good Idea to have additional surge protectors at the location of all outdoors located equipment such as HVAC equipment and pumps on wells.

  • I would agree that 60-70% of air conditioning breakdowns are from electrical failure. Need to find a good surge protector to use on air conditioners for this issue.

  • If your filter is dirty and clogged, it can cause many issues with your unit. Lack of air flow can cause a lack of cooling efficiency with the system. In some cases a clogged filter can lead to your system icing up. Filters should be checked often and changed on a regular basis. BTW, ice article here. Very informative post.

  • I like what you said about taking care of your unit with preventative care. It’s been a long time since we have had our unit checked out by a professional. From reading this, I think that we are well overdue for both a lube analysis, and having our condenser cleaned.

  • Very informative tips. If you want to lengthen the lifespan of your AC unit you have to do a regular maintenance from skilled HVAC contractor. It makes sense that asking for references and referrals can be a great benefit. You make a good point about how speaking with past customers will help you determine how the contractor works and if they can provide the right service for you.

  • An air conditioner’s filter is a very large factor in its performance, so it needs to be in good condition. Fortunately, making sure the filter is in good condition is one of the easiest things that you can do when it comes to maintaining your air conditioner.

  • I’m very glad you talked about electrical failures. As a person who lives in an area with frequent brown-outs and blackouts, I want to take the necessary precautions to prevent any kind of damage that may happen. I hadn’t known about the TVSS devices, and how they can block voltage spikes. I’ll definitely need to install at least one in my unit, as well as check if my system is properly grounded. Thanks!

  • I never knew that you should have lube analysis done on your AC units to prevent failure mechanical parts. Air conditioning is essential to maintaining a comfortable environment in the home so I can definitely see why routine maintenance is needed. Thanks for the tips!

  • Air filters get dirty quickly, and can cause your air conditioning unit to work harder than it needs to. Just keeping it clean can save a lot of trouble in the future!

  • Great tips! I agree that air filters need to be changed more often. Definitely overlooked by many people. Thanks for sharing!

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