The performance of vapor compression refrigeration cycles is limited by thermodynamics. These air conditioning and heat pump devices move heat rather than convert it from one form to another, so thermal efficiencies do not appropriately describe the performance of these devices. The Coefficient-of-Performance (COP) measures performance, but this dimensionless measure has not been adopted. Instead, the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) has traditionally been used to characterize the performance of many HVAC systems. EER is the Energy Efficiency Ratio based on a 35 °C (95 °F) outdoor temperature. To more accurately describe the performance of air conditioning equipment over a typical cooling season a modified version of the EER, the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), or in Europe the ESEER, is used. SEER ratings are based on seasonal temperature averages instead of a constant 35 °C (95 °F) outdoor temperature. The current industry minimum SEER rating is 14 SEER.[dead link]
If your AC doesn’t turn off when room temperature reaches the temperature set on the thermostat, the problem is generally occurring either at the thermostat or in the electrical system that runs the outside condensing unit. You can use the AC’s circuit breaker to shut off the unit, but that should not be a permanent solution—circuit breakers are not designed to be used like light switches.
Outdoor Fan Motor -- The outdoor fan, also called the condenser fan, is exposed to external conditions. As such it is most prone to dust and debris and the extreme weather. In desert climates, the outdoor fan motor is subject to heat not only from normal operation but from the outside temperature as well. As it starts to fail, the fan may work fine in the cooler morning hours but stop by afternoon. This can shut down the entire system for hours. When they stop running completely, your air conditioner will no longer work. Running a faulty fan will lead to compressor failure, which is a very costly repair.
In addition to the information below, see these two articles for the general care and maintenance of your air conditioner: Preparing Your Air Conditioner for Summer and How to Replace Furnace & AC Filters. Most noteworthy, you should replace the filters at least twice a year, before the heating and cooling seasons. For information on furnace problems, please see Furnace Not Working.