Your air conditioner has many parts to it, all that play their role in keeping your home comfortable throughout the summer months. One of the essential components in the air conditioner capacitor, which gives your air conditioner the energy to start running—a vital part of the air conditioning process.
Just what is this part exactly? It’s a small cylindrical container inside your air conditioner, and its primary job is to store and supply energy. When your air conditioner starts up, it requires more power than your home electrical system can produce—and that’s where the capacitor comes in.
While your air conditioner is running, the capacitor collects and stores energy; in short, it’s like a rechargeable battery. That way, when it’s time for that big burst of energy your air conditioner needs, the capacitor can supply it and keep things running smoothly. The air conditioner’s compressor, blower motor, and fan motor all rely on the compressor (or compressors, depending on your air conditioner) to keep running and cold air running through your home.
How to Tell if Your Capacitor Isn’t Working
If the capacitor isn’t working, that can lead to all sorts of problems. Sometimes, your air conditioner will be running, but the fan isn’t moving. Other times, the fan may be running, but the air isn’t cold, or the AC doesn’t stay powered on for long. In these cases, it’s likely you have a non-functioning capacitor, and it can’t provide that kickstart of energy the fan, compressor, or blower needs to do its job. You can also tell that the capacitor is failing if you hear a clicking sound from inside your air conditioner cabinet.
If your fan isn’t running, a simple test can tell if the capacitor is having troubles. Using a stick, you can push the fan while the air conditioner is running. If the fan starts moving, your capacitor is most likely damaged; it’s not storing the energy needed to start the fan motor but has enough to keep the fan running.
Looking at the capacitor can also give you some idea if it’s a problem. When the top of the capacitor is starting to bulge, instead of keeping a flat surface, or if there’s leakage, that’s a sure sign that it needs replacement.
What Leads to Capacitor Failure?
A capacitor takes on a high strain in its lifetime and having an air conditioner run more than usual increases this strain. Most capacitors are built to last for about twenty years under ideal conditions, but ideal conditions aren’t always the case. For most capacitors, there are three common causes of failure:
- Heat exposure. While beating the heat is what air conditioners are built to do, the hotter the area is, the more risk your capacitor is at for failure. Overheating it can damage the unit and shorten its lifespan. Keeping your air conditioner shaded and well ventilated can help reduce the risks of high temperatures.
- Voltage Rating. There are various types of capacitors for different AC models, and they all have individual voltage ratings. The higher voltage a capacitor is, the more expensive the part, so it may be tempting to purchase a lower level capacitor for replacement. However, this puts a much more significant strain on the capacitor, shortening its lifespan.
- Again, most capacitors have a lifetime of about twenty years, but that also means they have limited use. Older capacitors won’t be as capable, and higher than average AC use will shorten its lifespan quicker, as can having a capacitor with faulty parts.
One of the major problems with an AC capacitor failure is that it can lead to damage to other parts that it powers. Fans can wear down; electric connections can be damaged—once you notice the capacitor is the problem, it’s best to replace it as soon as possible so that you don’t end up with additional maintenance needs and costs.
How to Replace an Air Conditioner Capacitor
After you’ve determined that your capacitor needs replacement, there are several options you can take to doing so. As it is like a battery, the simple process is that you need to swap it out for a new one. However, it’s a bit more complicated than just popping out the old capacitor and slipping in a replacement, so don’t attempt to do it yourself if you don’t feel confident with handling the parts.
There are several guides on how to swap out a capacitor by yourself, but here are some of the basics to keep in mind:
- Find the right replacement capacitor. The capacitor should have a voltage and capacitance level on it, and you need to match that in your replacement. Writing down that and the make and model of your air conditioner can help in finding the type of capacitor you need.
- Power down your air conditioner before starting any fixes. It may sound like common sense, but it’s still vital. Working with high-electricity machinery can be dangerous without proper safety.
- Discharge the capacitor. Even with your air conditioner turned off, the capacitor still has a significant amount of energy stored inside (that’s it’s job, after all). You need to discharge that energy so as not to cause damage to yourself during handling or after disposal. Make sure to wear proper safety equipment as well.
- Take notes. Either draw a diagram of how your capacitor is connected or take several pictures to aid in the reconnection process.
- Be aware of capacitor differences. If you’ve selected the same type of capacitor as your old one, this won’t be as much of an issue. However, some capacitors have different labels for the connections you need, so be aware of where these need to reattach so that you don’t have additional troubles.
Of course, not everyone feels as comfortable with DIY projects, so there’s no harm in calling a professional to do the work for you. In fact, if you see that your capacitor has oil leakage, it’s best to let a technician handle the replacement to reduce the danger.
Cost of Replacement
Turbo capacitors can store more energy and have higher prices, but if they do help take away the voltage concern that may damage your capacitor.
With professional repairs, there’s not much more to worry about regarding cost. With maintenance included, you’re looking at around a $220-250 price to replace your capacitor and getting your air conditioner back into shape. If you’re working with a branded unit and want to use their parts, the cost can shoot closer to $400, but, if that’s not in your range, there are plenty of alternatives that don’t sacrifice capacitor effectiveness.
While capacitors are one of the most common causes of air conditioning trouble, replacing them is simple and inexpensive.