Save a Little (or a lot) on Central Air, Just be Prepared

Before the business at hand, a few notes.
  • Not sure how often I'll post here, but I will try to be more regular.
  • I want to be able to learn the Blogger interface a bit, so there's that.
  • I would like to share more detail than on a dumb facebook post in general.
  • Feel free to email me at
This past weekend on one of the hottest days of the year here in Montclair, NJ our air conditioning failed. Specifically, one of our two systems - the one for the second and third floors of our house stopped cooling.

There are of course many online videos to diagnose what your issue may be, and it could be anything from a blown fuse to something more serious. This guy and his videos are pretty good.

Our issue, and one that is pretty common, is that our compressor (the part outside) would not start because the starting capacitor had failed. Basically, a capacitor is like a big battery that holds a charge and starts up the compressor. When one of those fails, you're dead in the water.

We had to call a service tech, but you don't have to and if you plan in advance (like I will now), you can save a lot of money. Here's why -

The capacitor can be purchased on Amazon (or other retailer) for between $30 and $40. Here's mine as an example. Your local A/C maintenance man will charge you 10 times this amount for the same part. Yes, you read that properly, for the same part you can buy online for $40, your A/C guy/gal will charge you $400. Add to that $200 for a service call, and you're talking big money. We didn't have a capacitor in the house and I didn't know what I learned this past weekend at great expense, so I hope to be able to help others.

The capacitor is easy to replace if that is the problem (again, see some online videos to diagnose). There are also videos for how to do the actual replace job, but it's basically this:
  1. Disconnect power at the unit - usually a disconnect box outside, or fuse box inside
  2. Take off panel on side of compressor unit to locate electrical connections
  3. Find capacitor and test with multi-meter, if needed. Also, discharge any current that may be in it by using a rubber handled screw drive to short out the leads.
  4. Take photo of where wires are connected. 
  5. Unplug leads and remove old capacitor.
  6. Replace wires on new cap, mount cap on unit, replace cover.
  7. Replace outside power disconnect.
  8. Test
  9. Plan a nice dinner out with your partner with some of the money you saved.
So, to be prepared and do it yourself, look up your compressor unit model number and specs. Or even take the panel off outside (after disconnecting power of course), and take a photo of the capacitor to know what to order. Also, be sure to buy a capacitor made in the USA, as some of the Chinese ones have been shown to fail.

Finally, if you're unsure - call a guy.

Email me if you have any questions.