What To Do When Your Air Conditioner Runs In Short Bursts

Households rely on air conditioning units to keep their living spaces at a pleasant temperature during hot days. These units begin cooling when the indoor temperature surpasses the set point on the thermostat, gradually creating an ideal comfort level. Yet, when an air conditioner frequently turns on and off over short periods, a condition referred to as AC short cycling, it indicates an underlying issue that may lead to several negative consequences if not addressed. 

This detailed article by Taylor Energy delves into the causes of short cycling, its possible effects on your residence, and practical solutions to avert this problem. Keep reading to learn more about AC short cycling and what you can do when facing this situation at home.

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Understanding AC Short Cycling

what does it mean written as a note depicting air conditioner short bursts

Short cycling in your air conditioning system is identified by the unit’s frequent and abrupt starting and stopping within short intervals, which hinders it from finishing its designated cooling cycle. This issue obstructs the system’s ability to cool the area properly and manage humidity effectively. A standard operating cycle is crucial for maintaining even temperature regulation and minimizing indoor moisture, both key to achieving indoor comfort. 

Short cycling undermines the air conditioning system’s efficiency, accelerating wear and tear, elevating energy costs, and diminishing the unit’s overall longevity. Identifying and remedying the root causes of short cycling is crucial to ensuring your cooling system’s operational efficiency and longevity.

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Common Causes of Air Conditioner Short Cycling

Several factors, from incorrect sizing to mechanical issues, can cause air conditioner short cycling. Below are some common causes:

Clogged HVAC Air Filters

clogged HVAC air filter in a home

Keeping a close eye on and regularly replacing HVAC air filters is critical for sustaining the system’s efficiency. Allowing air filters to accumulate dirt and become clogged significantly hinders airflow into the system. This restriction forces the system to exert more effort to maintain airflow, putting extra stress on vital components such as the compressor and blower, which may cause short cycling. Persistent neglect of this maintenance can lead to degraded system performance and potentially major equipment failures.

Following the filter replacement schedule outlined in your equipment manual is vital to keeping your HVAC system in optimal condition. However, it’s essential to understand that certain homes might require filter changes more often due to factors such as air quality and the level of dust in the household. A sensible strategy is to check your filter every month and replace it immediately if it looks dirty.

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Oversized AC Units

The adage “bigger is better” does not apply to air conditioning systems. An oversized air conditioner can cause inefficiency due to short cycling. It cools the space too quickly and shuts off before it can adequately reduce humidity or ensure even air distribution. This not only leads to higher energy use but also to uneven temperatures throughout the home. For efficient and consistent cooling, it’s vital to select an air conditioning unit that matches the size of your space accurately.

Frozen Evaporator Coils

icicles depicting frozen air conditioner condenser coils

Evaporator coils play an important role in removing indoor heat. However, if these coils become frozen or accumulate dirt, they can malfunction, causing the system to overheat. This overheating may trigger an automatic shutdown to protect the system, often occurring before the desired temperature is achieved.

Mechanical problems within the HVAC system can cause issues such as frozen evaporator coils, which contribute to short cycling. While homeowners might temporarily stop their air conditioning to allow the ice to melt, a recurrence of freezing indicates the need for professional intervention.

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Low Air Conditioner Refrigerant Levels

image of hvac contractor measuring refrigerant in an air conditioner

Refrigerant is fundamental to the air conditioning system, facilitating heat transfer from inside to outside. Maintaining the correct refrigerant levels is vital for efficient operation. Unfortunately, leaks can deplete these levels, forcing the air conditioning system to work harder to cool the space. This increased workload can overburden the system’s components, ultimately causing short cycling.

HVAC technicians possess the expertise to evaluate refrigerant levels and identify any leaks. They are adept at swiftly pinpointing and fixing leaks. Once the repairs are complete, they will recharge the system with the correct refrigerant, ensuring it returns to its proper functioning state.

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Electrical Issues in Air Conditioners

Faulty wiring or malfunctioning control boards can disrupt an air conditioner’s power supply, leading to short cycling. Due to the risk and complexity involved, homeowners should steer clear of DIY electrical repairs. Instead, employing HVAC technicians to diagnose and fix these electrical issues is recommended, ensuring the air conditioner functions efficiently and safely.

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Poor Thermostat Placement and Short Cycling

man exploring AC thermostat at home

Suboptimal thermostat placement can cause short cycling. If a thermostat is placed too close to a window with strong sunlight or near other heat sources, its sensors may falsely read the room as overly warm due to direct heat exposure, leading to unnecessary and premature cooling cycles. Relocating the thermostat to a location that can more accurately reflect the room’s overall temperature, away from direct heat and sunlight, can correct this issue.

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Reasons to Avoid Air Conditioner Short Cycling

Short cycling can harm your air conditioning system in various ways. Here are key reasons to prevent it:

AC Equipment Damage

The constant starting and stopping exceed the operational capacity air conditioners are designed for, imposing excessive stress on their components. This continual strain hastens the degradation process, markedly raising the risk of equipment malfunction. Consequently, homeowners may need early parts replacement and experience a shortened lifespan of their air conditioning system, incurring additional costs and inconvenience.

Soaring Energy Bills


Short cycling forces the cooling system to work harder and use more energy than usual. This extra inefficiency adds a considerable burden since air conditioners are significant home energy consumers. Homeowners might see a sharp increase in energy expenses due to this issue. If left unresolved, it can result in substantially higher operating costs.

Inconsistent Room Temperatures

Short cycling leads to uneven temperature distribution, causing some areas to be overly cold while others remain uncomfortably warm. The rapid, sporadic cooling cycles do not allow the uniform spread of cool air throughout the home. This temperature variance can make it difficult for residents, especially those working or studying in the warmer parts, to remain comfortable and productive, especially during the hotter months.

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Preventing Short Cycling: The Importance of Professional Help

For a definitive approach to preventing short cycling in your air conditioning system, enlisting professional help is essential:

  • Regular Air Conditioner Maintenance: Arrange for annual or bi-annual maintenance checks conducted by certified HVAC technicians. They will ensure that your system is thoroughly inspected, cleaned, and properly adjusted for optimal performance, helping to identify and correct potential issues before they escalate.
  • Professional Diagnosis: Seek expert assistance at the first hint of short cycling. Professionals can pinpoint whether the issue stems from sizing, refrigerant leaks, or other mechanical and electrical faults and suggest a suitable fix.
  • Expert AC Repairs: Professional repairs are often necessary due to the intricacies of short cycling. Technicians with specialized tools and expertise can accurately address and fix the issues, preventing further system damage.

Turning to professionals guarantees proper air conditioning system maintenance, protecting you from the costs and complications of attempting to tackle complex issues yourself. This approach focuses on preserving the system’s longevity and ensuring comfort, highlighting the importance of expert care.

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Short cycling in air conditioners is a notable concern, negatively impacting system efficiency and leading to unnecessary expenses for homeowners. To prevent this issue, working with a qualified HVAC contractor is essential. A professional can choose the right air conditioner size and guarantee the correct installation. Moreover, adhering to a schedule of regular annual maintenance ensures potential issues like electrical faults, refrigerant leaks, or clogged coils are identified and addressed promptly, preventing them from developing into short cycling problems.

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Call Taylor Energy for Reliable Air Conditioning Services

Taylor Energy offers top-notch heating and cooling services throughout Northern Connecticut. It boasts a team of certified technicians known for their proficiency in HVAC tune-ups, repairs, installations, and replacements. Our technicians have extensive knowledge and experience, guaranteeing that your HVAC system is treated with the utmost care.

At Taylor Energy, we prioritize offering competitive prices for our heating and cooling solutions, ensuring you get the best value in the region. Our maintenance solutions are crafted to boost your comfort and enhance your home’s energy efficiency, ultimately helping to reduce cooling expenses. Whether you need HVAC repair or are considering a new system installation, we provide tailored recommendations that align with your home’s needs and budget. Our comprehensive satisfaction guarantee underscores our commitment to quality.

Discover the Taylor Energy advantage and receive a complimentary in-home estimate by contacting us today. Schedule your air conditioner tune-up or service appointment now.

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