Refrigerant Leaks

Refrigerant Leaks

AC Refrigerant LeakAre you are concerned that your AC system has a refrigerant leak? Refrigerant leaks are one of the most common AC problems and can be one of the most frustrating when not fixed properly.

Every year people call in for service on their air conditioner and the diagnosis is usually refrigerant loss.

Loss of refrigerant, also known as coolant or freon, is not a normal part of an AC system’s operation and indicates there’s most likely a refrigerant leak. A properly running AC system circulates and maintains the same amount of refrigerant, it does not lose refrigerant over time.

What Causes Refrigerant Leaks?

It’s a common misconception that refrigerant is slowly depleted as part of an AC system’s cooling process. Low refrigerant levels are actually the result of refrigerant leaks caused by small puncture holes in the refrigerant line or cracks in coils that allow the refrigerant to escape.

Refrigerant leaks can be caused by several things, such as:

  • Corrosion of copper tube walls of the indoor coil
  • Factory defects in your unit
  • Improper AC installation
  • Joints or connections weakening over time
  • Normal wear and tear causing thinning of tube walls
  • Vibration

10 Signs of a Refrigerant Leak

By noticing the signs early, you can maintain a cool temperature within your home and avoid shelling out thousands on repairs or replacing your AC system.

The following signs may indicate there’s a refrigerant leak in your AC unit.

1. Higher than usual electric bills

A refrigerant leak can cause your AC unit to work harder than normal. If your electric bill has unexpectedly skyrocketed, your air conditioner may have a refrigerant leak. Review your electric bill for inconsistent usage levels, especially when compared to the same time period last year.

2. Your AC takes longer than normal to cool your home

When AC units experience a refrigerant leak, they lose the ability to reach the set temperature on your thermostat in a timely, efficient manner. This causes your AC system to run longer than usual to reach the desired temperature. Refrigerant’s job in the cooling process is to absorb the heat from inside your home and release it outside. If your refrigerant levels are depleted, it will take longer to cool your home.

3. Increased humidity inside your home

It should only take a functional air conditioning system about 15 minutes to properly dehumidify your home.

4. Frozen evaporator coil

Ice crystals are a tell-tale sign of a refrigerant leak. It’s important to check your evaporator coil (the indoor coil) periodically for new formations. When the refrigerant level circulating through the evaporator coils is insufficient, the coils will not adequately absorb heat. This will result in the condensation on the coils freezing. When your AC stops running, ice begins to melt and water drips on the floor. While ice on the evaporator coil might not seem alarming, it could lead to a system breakdown and could result in an expensive repair such as a compressor replacement.

5. AC leaking water

Maybe you didn’t see the ice on your coils, but you may have noticed water on the floor by your HVAC unit as a result of the ice melting off your evaporator coils.

6. AC not blowing cold air

One part of your quick analysis for an AC refrigerant leak is to check the air coming from your air vents. If the air is not as cold as it should be, it could mean an HVAC refrigerant leak.

7. Hissing sounds

An AC refrigerant leak can be caused by holes or cracks in the coils that circulate the refrigerant. While a hissing sound coming from your AC system could be a sign of a variety of problems, refrigerant leaks are the most common. If the leak is severe enough, your AC may even make a gurgling sound.

8. Low airflow

When your air conditioning system is low on refrigerant, it won’t produce as much cool air as it usually does.

9. Tiny bubbles in the evaporator coils

HVAC technicians sometimes call refrigerant leaks “champagne leaks” because the hole can be detected by observing tiny bubbles in the evaporator coils.

10. The refrigerant line is covered in ice

If you notice the copper refrigerant line is covered in ice, then your HVAC system may be leaking refrigerant. When your system is low on refrigerant, your air conditioner’s evaporator coil can get too cold. This can cause cold refrigerant to flow back to the refrigerant line, causing it to freeze.

Symptoms of Freon Poisoning

Freon contains fluorinated hydrocarbons, a chemical that causes health issues in people who are exposed to it in large quantities. This chemical is both colorless and odorless, so it’s important to act fast if you suspect your AC system is leaking freon.

If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms of freon poisoning, you should get medical help immediately:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fluid buildup in the lungs

What to Do When You Have a Refrigerant Leak

If your air conditioner is low on refrigerant, either it was undercharged at installation or it is leaking refrigeration.

It’s tempting to call an AC company and have them just add refrigerant to your system. After all, it’s much cheaper than a costly repair. However, this is not the proper solution for an AC refrigerant leak. Beware of any HVAC company that takes this corner-cutting approach.

If your AC system is leaking refrigerant, simply adding refrigerant is not a solution. Adding refrigerant could cost you more money in the long run because if there is a leak, the refrigerant will leak out again and have to be continually refilled. An HVAC technician should find and fix any leaks, test the repair, and then add refrigerant.

If there are multiple leaks or serious ones, an HVAC professional may recommend replacing your refrigerant coil. While this is more costly than repairing holes, you will have the satisfaction of knowing no more leaks are around the corner.

6 Replies to “Refrigerant Leaks”

  1. It’s interesting to know that water leaking from my air conditioner is most probably caused by the same problem if it was producing ice on its coils. My air conditioner hasn’t been cooling my room fast enough these past few days, making it obvious that it is not running efficiently. Now that I know that the leak is a problem with the refrigerant, I can safely say that I would need the help of an air conditioner repair professional to remedy this.

  2. Hey Gabe, thanks for this article. 1 question. Is it okay to continue to operate the AC for 2-3 days more upon detecting leak problem till the new AC is installed?

    1. If the refrigerant leak is tiny and isolated to the portion of the line outside your home then it should be completely fine to run your AC.

      But if the refrigerant is leaking inside your home and you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of freon poisoning (dizziness, nausea, trouble breathing, etc.), you should NOT operate your AC system.

  3. Wow, I never knew that ice forming on an AC unit is actually bad for it and this could be a sign of a refrigerant leak. When I started using the air conditioner due to all the sudden sunlight in my area, I thought that having it freeze up was a sign that it was working really well since cold things freeze up naturally. Now that I know that this isn’t the case, I’ll quickly look for an HVAC contractor in the area that can fix this up for me.

  4. Thanks for pointing out that a refrigerant leak is something that you should avoid on your AC unit since it’ll cause a rise to your utility bills if left as is. My friend noticed that he’s paying way more for his cooling lately even though he’s not using it all the time. I’ll recommend that he look around for an AC repair expert for advice.

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