Are 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. But the truth is low refrigerant levels are caused by small puncture holes 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
9 Signs of an AC 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 you 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. AC taking longer 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 to freeze. 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 is 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 large enough, your AC may 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.
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.
- 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 not the proper solution for an AC refrigerant leak and 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.