How Do I Know If My Air Conditioner Has A Refrigerant Leak?

man suffering from heat due to air conditioner coolant leak

An AC refrigerant leak is fairly common but not always obvious. Coolant leaks can greatly affect the efficiency of an HVAC system. Also, when leaks happen, home comfort is adversely affected. Plus, there are certain health issues that could come into play if the leak is not resolved immediately. Learn more about what causes a refrigerant leak and what you should do to ensure that your HVAC system is working properly.

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How Do I Detect An Air Conditioner Refrigerant Leak?

This article will discuss the importance of refrigerant to the HVAC system. You will also learn the possible causes of refrigerant leaks and the best solutions to this issue.

What is the Function of Air Conditioner Refrigerant?

image of air conditioner refrigerant

The refrigerant or coolant is a chemical compound that comes in gas or fluid state. It is used in the compressor of air conditioning systems to be distributed to different components. When the refrigerant is pulled into the compressor, it is compressed to force the molecules to be contained in a smaller space. When molecules collide, they produce heat. The compressor then moves the refrigerant to the condenser where the heat is eliminated. This process is often aided by fans built into the system. As heat is removed from the refrigerant, it turns into liquid. It is then pushed through to the evaporator coils to cool it down further. Air that is blown over the evaporator is cooled and is then distributed to a room.

The refrigerant is a critical component of the air conditioning system. It is important in cooling ambient air. If there is a leak, the level of refrigerant is significantly reduced, affecting the capability of the HVAC system to keep the air cool and conditioned. This reduces the comfort level in the home.

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Causes of Air Conditioner Refrigerant Leak

outdoor condenser for air conditioner and HVAC contractor

  • Corrosion: The HVAC system has metal components which include copper tube walls. These are found inside the indoor coil. The copper tube walls can become corroded, causing cracks and holes to form. Once this happens, the tube walls become weakened and cause the refrigerant to leak.
  • Weakened Joints and Connections in the AC: Time and age can cause joints and connections in the AC to thin out or become eroded.
  • Improper installation of the AC System: Incorrect installation of the air conditioning system could cause a refrigerant leak. This may be due to incorrectly-fitted parts and other components that allow coolant gas or liquid to escape.
  • Factory Defects: A defect that was not detected when the AC unit was still at the factory could, later on, cause a refrigerant leak once the unit is installed in your home. Poor assembly, missing components, damaged parts or components, and improper handling are factors that could cause a defect in the unit.
  • Wear and Tear: Aging and frequent use all contribute to the natural wear-and-tear of the AC unit. Over time, components begin to break down or become worn, allowing the refrigerant to leak.
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What to Look For If Your AC Has a Coolant Leak

image of a man looking at his cooling costs

If you have any of these things, you should check your AC for a leak:

  • A Spike in Your Electrical Costs: AC inefficiency often translates to higher power bills. Because the unit is inefficient, it will work harder to keep up with the cooling needs of your home. This forces the AC to use up more power – hence, a higher power bill.
  • AC Takes a While to Cool the Home: A refrigerant leak causes the air conditioner to lose its cooling power. As a result, the AC unit cannot cool down the home sufficiently. If you notice a change in the comfort level of your home even with the AC on, it might be caused by an AC leak.
  • Humidity: AC units are effective for lowering the humidity levels inside your home. This helps minimize the problems that are associated with high humidity, including discomfort and the growth of mold or mildew. An inefficient AC that has a leak will fail at lowering humidity levels indoors.
  • Frozen Evaporator Coil: If the evaporator coils are frozen, they will not be able to absorb heat after the refrigerant passes the compressor. This affects the cooling process of the AC, causing condensation on the coils to freeze.
  • AC Leak: AC leaks can be traced to the ice that formed in the evaporator coil that has melted. Since the liquid has nowhere to go, it will drip down through the unit and form a puddle on the floor.
  • Hissing Sound: If there is a hissing sound coming from the AC, there may be cracks or holes in the parts or components. If the crack is in the coils, the refrigerant may be escaping from it. If the hole or crack is larger, the leak will produce a gurgling sound.
  • Low Airflow: An AC unit that has a low level of refrigerant cannot produce enough cool air. This is fairly noticeable when you turn on the AC and there is low airflow.
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Why is An Air Conditioner Refrigerant Leak Dangerous?

image depicting dangers of ac coolant leaksThe refrigerant that leaks through the vents can be harmful to health. Exposure to coolant leaks through inhalation could cause symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, loss of coordination, and poor concentration. Direct contact with the coolant can also cause allergic reactions or cause frostbite or even a chemical burn. Inhalation of high amounts of the refrigerant can lead to loss of consciousness or seizures, or worse.

Air Conditioner: Repair or Replace?

air conditioner repair

Many homeowners view a refrigerant leak as a simple DIY repair while others prefer to have the unit replaced immediately at the first sign of a problem. If you are torn between repair and replacement, keep in mind that there is a number of reasons why a refrigerant leak can occur. Some of the causes of a leak also require a complex approach that only a licensed professional contractor can do. If you happen to have a new AC unit, attempting to perform DIY repairs on it could void the manufacturer’s warranty. It is far safer and more prudent to leave it to a professional HVAC contractor.

R-22 Refrigerant

If your AC is an older unit that uses the R-22 refrigerant, you should also be aware that the U.S. government has imposed an order to phase out this compound beginning January 2020. This order effectively halts all production of the R-22 compound. This means that whatever R-22 is still available will be limited in quantity and thus sold only at high prices. As such, it is better to have your AC unit replaced than repaired.

Older units also come with a number of problems other than a refrigerant leak. Just in case you are using an older AC model, it is possible that it will not only be less efficient but you will also find it very difficult and very costly to top off the unit with the R-22 compound. It could even cost half as much as a new AC model that has a high ENERGY STAR® rating. A new unit that carries a high SEER rating is also a better choice in terms of improved efficiency, performance, and assured comfort.

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If a refrigerant leak is a significant problem for you, you could save more and enjoy better comfort and efficiency with a new air conditioning system. Of course, the simple issues can still be fixed but certain problems require the expertise of a professional HVAC technician. If you want solid solutions, get in touch with your local HVAC contractor to identify the best options for your home.

Call Hart Home Comfort For Superior HVAC Services

hart-logoWhen it comes to air conditioning needs, Hart Home Comfort has remained at the leading spot in the region. We take pride in hiring only experienced and knowledgable certified technicians who are trained in providing topnotch services. Some of our specialties include HVAC tune-ups, installations, repairs, and replacements. All of our services are not only timely but accurate as well.

We can guarantee competitive HVAC services. We value your business and ensure that we prioritize your comfort and safety. If you want real, affordable solutions, call Hart Home Comfort for a free, in-home service estimate today.
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