When an air conditioner cycles on and off in rapid succession, it’s a problem called short cycling. And it’s a big deal -- short cycling not only harms the energy efficiency of your home’s largest energy-consuming appliance, it puts excess wear on your equipment, leading to more frequent breakdowns and repairs.

Short cycling can be caused by a variety of factors, and they all need to be corrected as quickly as possible to minimize the expense and save your equipment.

An Oversize Issue

One of the most common causes of air conditioner short cycling is an air conditioner that is too big and powerful for the space it’s designed to cool. This is occasionally a mistake made with good intentions -- bigger air conditioners cool down spaces faster, and since no one likes to wait for a hot room to cool down, bigger must be better, right?

Wrong. Oversized units cool down homes so quickly that they can’t properly dehumidify the air. This leads to rooms feeling damp and clammy. It also causes greater fluctuations in temperature, creating spaces that alternately feel too hot or too cold.

And all the while, the unit is cycling on and off rapidly, wearing down the motor and other components.

Trouble Can Start Anywhere

There are other problems that can crop up at any time and cause a short cycling issue:

Ice buildup on the evaporator coils. This problem can have its own causes -- airflow problems and refrigerant issues chief among them -- but iced-over coils can easily lead to short cycling. A knowledgeable HVAC technician should diagnose this issue.

Dirty air filter. When there’s insufficient air flow through your system, it has to work harder. If it works too hard, it could overheat and shut off automatically. When there’s an extreme air clog, short cycling is one possible result.

Refrigerant loss or leak. Low refrigerant can also cause short cycling by overheating the condenser. This should always be investigated by an HVAC expert, because any leak will need to be detected and repaired.

Thermostat problems. Sometimes the issue isn’t with the air conditioner at all, but rather with a malfunctioning thermostat. Refer to your thermostat owner’s manual for troubleshooting tips, or call an HVAC professional to test for problems.

Pay close attention to your air conditioner’s cooling cycles, and if you notice signs of short cycling, don’t wait to address the issue. Your energy and repair bills will just continue to rise until your local HVAC experts can diagnose and fix the problem!

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