For many homeowners, seeing ice developing on an air conditioner may seem like a totally natural part of the cooling process. After all, your air conditioner is tasked with chilling the air, right? So seeing a little frost should be totally okay.
Well, no, not quite! Ironically, ice development on your air conditioner, particularly on the coils, actually prevents the air conditioner’s coils from being able to do their job, which is to absorb the heat from your home and put it through a refrigerant process.
Read on as we uncover what it means when you see ice forming on your air conditioner, and what you should do about it.
No, Air Conditioners Don’t Use Ice or Freezing Technology
As we alluded to above, there is no part of the cooling process where your air conditioner uses ice or frost. It should not be a byproduct of the cooling process, either. Your air conditioner is a type of heat pump. This means that it transfers heat from one area (inside your home) into another area (outdoors). Then the refrigerant within your system helps cool the air.
Refrigerant evaporates and condenses throughout the heat exchange cycle. The refrigerant does get extremely cold, but the only instance where it would trigger the creation of ice is if there’s a refrigerant leak, which we’ll get to in a moment.
How Does Ice Get on an AC?
It’s possible that your HVAC system’s air filter is clogged up with dust, dirt, or other debris. This can restrict airflow, and as a result, insufficient warm air reaches the coil, and so it stays too cold and freezes over.
This air filter should be swapped out every 1–3 months depending on the type of filter and the level of contaminants in the home.
Another possibility is that the evaporator coil of the air conditioner might be dirty. This can also be caused by a clogged air filter. What happens is that the dirt provides an insulating layer over the coil, which restricts its ability to absorb heat. This means the refrigerant is too col, and this causes moisture to freeze along the coil.
And then like we mentioned above, the problem might be a refrigerant leak. This is a serious issue, since a drop in the levels of refrigerant (A.K.A. refrigerant charge) changes pressure throughout the system and will eventually damage the compressor. The reduced refrigerant charge restricts heat absorption on the coil, leaving the remaining refrigerant too cold, and again, leading to a frozen coil.
“What Do I Do If I See Ice on My AC?”
We can tell you first what you shouldn’t do … you shouldn’t try to thaw or remove it on your own. This can do more harm than good to the air conditioner, leading to cracked or damaged components. Plus, it doesn’t actually solve the root of the problem, so the air conditioner might just freeze over all over again.
What you should do instead is call an experienced and highly trained contractor, like us!