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HVAC Trouble: Is It Your AC or Your Ducts?

This summer, you’re going to need reliable air conditioning. This isn’t just about your air conditioner, though. It might have all the cooling power, but that can only be turned into cool air distributed throughout your house thanks to your ductwork. A problem in either part of your HVAC system could quickly turn into a miserable, overheated summer.

If you need both your air conditioner and your ductwork to be in good working order, how can you tell which is the problem when something does go wrong? Some HVAC troubles are pretty clearly caused by the AC unit, some are definitely the ducts. Others could be either. Here’s what you should know.


A wide variety of HVAC troubles cause surprising, unusual noises. If they’re coming from either the indoor or outdoor AC unit, that’s where the problem lies. If they’re coming from elsewhere in the house, or you hear them most loudly near your vents, the problem is more likely to be in the ductwork.

If your AC is leaking refrigerant, it may hiss or bubble. If the compressor is hard-starting, it will boom. If the blower motor bearings are grinding down, it may groan. But if you hear a rattle, that could be a loose component, loose screw, or loose section of ductwork anywhere in the system. And a screechy sound could be the AC’s fan belt, or it could be air whistling through a crack or hole in your ducts.


Again, if you can pinpoint the location of the smell, you’ll have a better idea of whether to check the ducts or the AC unit. But if there’s a hot, burning smell, or a smell of fish, it’s not the ducts. Strangely, that fishy odor indicates an electrical fire! Your AC needs repair. But a smell of mildew or sourness could be mold or bacteria growing in either the ducts or the AC condensate pan.

Poor Performance

If your air conditioner starts and stops too often, so that you’re not getting much cool air and it doesn’t have time to be properly distributed, this is called short cycling, and the problem is your air conditioner. For some reason, often an overheating component, the system is shutting itself down as a safety precaution every time it starts up.

If you’re not getting enough air from your vents, or the air isn’t cold enough, the first thing to check is the air filter of your AC unit. If it continues to be a problem after that’s clean, it’s entirely possible that much of your cooled air is being lost through duct leaks. 

Prompt Repairs Are Key

Whether the source of the problem lies within your ductwork or your air conditioner, you need it repaired right away so the issue won’t worsen. It’s also extremely inefficient to run a struggling system: it will drive your electric bill up sharply! You need an expert in all things HVAC in West Chester, PA so that they’re prepared to handle either a duct or AC problem.

Contact Platinum Plumbing & Heating, Inc. today to schedule an appointment with our pros.

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