Clean the condenser fan blades before the start of the cooling season. Brush any dust or debris off gently and then uncover the condenser coils, gently cleaning the dirty side. Then wrap the motor and other electrical components in plastic bags and gently spray from the inside with a hose. Now check the base pan under the unit and clear it out of any debris that has gathered.
Air conditioners can create a lot of water because they remove moisture from the air. To get rid of this, they have a [usually plastic] drain pipe that comes out of the side of the air handler. Over time, algae can block this pipe and, when it does, the AC won’t work. In fact, some condensate drains have a float switch that won’t let the AC run if water backs-up. Water can also puddle around the unit or flood the area. To deal with condensate problems, please see Air Conditioner Leaks Water, below.
Some systems include an "economizer mode", which is sometimes called a "free-cooling mode". When economizing, the control system will open (fully or partially) the outside air damper and close (fully or partially) the return air damper. This will cause fresh, outside air to be supplied to the system. When the outside air is cooler than the demanded cool air, this will allow the demand to be met without using the mechanical supply of cooling (typically chilled water or a direct expansion "DX" unit), thus saving energy. The control system can compare the temperature of the outside air vs. return air, or it can compare the enthalpy of the air, as is frequently done in climates where humidity is more of an issue. In both cases, the outside air must be less energetic than the return air for the system to enter the economizer mode.
In modern buildings, the design, installation, and control systems of these functions are integrated into one or more HVAC systems. For very small buildings, contractors normally estimate the capacity and type of system needed and then design the system, selecting the appropriate refrigerant and various components needed. For larger buildings, building service designers, mechanical engineers, or building services engineers analyze, design, and specify the HVAC systems. Specialty mechanical contractors then fabricate and commission the systems. Building permits and code-compliance inspections of the installations are normally required for all sizes of building.
If your central air conditioner will not cool but you can hear it running, it may just need to be cleaned. Whether or not this is the cause of the problem, it’s a good early remedy to try. Plan to do this on a relatively warm day. Never use a power washer for this—it can damage the fins. The following are guidelines; always refer to your owner’s manual. Note: Always turn off the power before cleaning the unit.