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

woman cooling herself with a fan

Air conditioner refrigerant leaks are very common, although they may not be easy to spot. This is usually the main reason why your HVAC system is not working properly and affecting the comfort levels in your home. More importantly, an AC refrigerant leak could cause health problems if it is not identified and repaired promptly. This is why it is so important for homeowners to be aware of refrigerant leaks and understand what they are, why they happen, and why you should pay close attention to your HVAC system.

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How Do I Know If There Is A Refrigerant Leak In My Air Conditioner?

This article will cover the basics about air conditioner refrigerants including what they do, what could cause a coolant leak, and what you can do if you discover a refrigerant leak in your air conditioner.

What Is Air Conditioner Refrigerant And What Does It Do?

image of air conditioner refrigerant

An air conditioner refrigerant is a substance that is either in a fluid or gas form. In AC systems, the compressor forces the refrigerant (such as R-22) around various components in the system. This causes the molecules to compress and force the molecules into a space that is smaller. When this happens, the molecules collide and create heat. As the refrigerant passes through the condenser, the heat subsides with the help of fans inside the air conditioning system. The refrigerant then cools down and condenses into a liquid. The next step is to pass the liquid through an evaporator so it cools down even more. Finally, the cool air is released so that it can cool down the air inside a space.

As you can see, the refrigerant is the most important element in an air conditioning system. If it leaks or runs out, the air conditioner won’t be able to cool a room or space as efficiently.

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What Causes Air Conditioner Refrigerant Leaks?

Corrosion Of Metal Parts

An air conditioner is made up of many metal components that can become corroded. For example, the copper tubes in the AC interior coil can corrode and get cracks or holes. This could cause the refrigerant to leak.

Deterioration Of Air Conditioner Parts

As time goes on and the air conditioner ages, some parts like joints and connections may become eroded or thinned out.

Faulty Air Conditioner Installation

HVAC technician looking at AC evaporator coil

Leaks can happen if your air conditioner isn’t properly installed because there may components and parts that do not fit together properly. This could cause leaks.

Air Conditioner Factory Defects

In some cases, the air conditioner unit may have been improperly assembled or handled before it even reached your home. These defects could also cause refrigerant leaks.

Regular Wear And Tear On The Air Conditioner

Over the years, air conditioners go through some inevitable wear and tear that can cause leaks. Certain parts of the AC unit have rubber seals to protect them. These can wear out over time, and that might allow the coolant to leak out.

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How To Tell If Refrigerant Is Leaking From Your Air Conditioner

  • Your Electric Bill is Higher Than Usual: When your air conditioning unit cannot effectively cool your house down, it must work harder to get the air to the ideal temperature. Therefore, you might see a drastic increase in your electric bill.
  • It Takes Longer For the AC to Cool Your Space: If your AC unit has a refrigerant leak, it has lost its power to cool your space. This could be why it takes you longer than usual to feel comfortable after you switch on the air conditioning.
  • Your Space Feels More Humid: Another sign that your AC unit is not working correctly is an increase in humidity. When coolant levels are low it may take a long time to dehumidify your house, or it may not even be able to dehumidify at all.
  • Evaporator Coil is Frozen: If there is not enough refrigerant circulating through the coil in your air conditioner, then the heat will not be absorbed. When this happens, the condensation will freeze on the coil. If you see ice on the coil, this is most likely the case.
  • Leaking AC: If your AC is leaking, it may be because frozen condensation has melted on the evaporator coil and then leaked out of the unit onto the ground or your floor.
  • Hissing Noises: If your AC has cracks or holes, you may hear a hissing sound coming from the unit. This is particularly true for the area where the refrigerant circulates. If you hear a bubbling sound, it could indicate a larger leak.
  • Insufficient Airflow: If your AC unit is low on refrigerant, it will not be able to emit enough cool air into your space, and as a result, there will be low airflow.

Why Air Conditioner Refrigerant Leaks Can Be Dangerous

image of caution sign depicting dangers of coolant leak of AC unitAn AC unit that is leaking coolant can cause numerous problems. If you are exposed to leaking coolant, you might find that you are feeling dizzy, short of breath, lacking focus and lacking coordination. Skin rashes are another problem that can happen if you come directly in contact with refrigerant, as well as chemical burns or even frostbite. Inhaling coolant in large quantities can also result in loss of consciousness or seizures. This could even be fatal in some cases.

How Do I Know When To Fix Or Replace My Air Conditioner?

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Many people try to fix their AC systems themselves or replace the unit on their own. However, the truth is that a refrigerant leak could have a number of causes that only a trained HVAC specialist should repair. For example, if your unit is a newer model, DIY repairs may make the warranty void. It is better to call an expert.

Another thing to note is that the R-22 compound, which is the most common type of refrigerant used in older air conditioning units, has been phased out. This began on January 1, 2020. Since it is not being produced anymore, you may be able to find it, but in very limited amounts and at a high cost. If you have an older AC model that uses R-22 and is not working as efficiently as it was before, it makes more sense to replace the unit rather than repairing it.

When it comes to older units, a refrigerant leak is just one problem. To have an older AC system that leaks and is problematic repaired could cost you nearly half as much as it would cost you to buy a newer unit like an ENERGY STAR® certified air conditioner. A new air conditioning unit with a better SEER rating will perform better, more efficiently, and greatly improve your comfort levels.

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If your air conditioner has a refrigerant leak, it may better for you to get a new energy-efficient air conditioner. Although there are some problems that can be resolved, certain defects and damages require a more practical solution. Contact your HVAC contractor and discuss what your options are when it comes to improving the comfort and safety of your house.

Call Wilcox Energy For Your Air Conditioning Needs

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Wilcox Energy guarantees the best heating and cooling service prices in the area. We can provide professional maintenance to increase your comfort, improve energy efficiency, and decrease your electric costs related to cooling. We will help you replace or repair your HVAC system and stay within your budget. Call Wilcox Energy today for a free in-home estimate or to schedule a service appointment.

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