Even though we may enjoy warm late summer days, most of us don’t want that heat creeping into our air conditioned living or work space. Are you are concerned because your place is not cooling off like it should? Perhaps you’ve noticed warm air or lower than normal airflow coming out of your system’s registers or you’ve heard a hissing sound. Maybe you’ve observed water on the floor by your HVAC unit or seen ice forming on your evaporator coils. These are all telltale signs of an AC refrigerant leak.
Here’s an important thing to know about refrigerant and your AC: a reduction of refrigerant is not a normal part of the operation of your system and likely signals an AC refrigerant leak. A properly running system circulates and maintains the same amount of refrigerant, it is not like oil in your car that must be replenished over time.
Let’s take a closer look at the symptoms of an AC refrigerant leak and the probable causes of that HVAC refrigerant leak, which is costing you in terms of comfort and dollars because of higher electric bills.
5 signs of an AC refrigerant leak
1. Loss of cooling power
Refrigerant plays an extremely important role in the cooling process. It’s the refrigerant’s job to absorb the heat from your home and release it outside. If your refrigerant levels are depleted, it will take longer to cool your home or business, which often results in a visit to the thermostat for a downward temperature adjustment.
2. Registers not blowing cool air
One part of your quick analysis for an AC refrigerant leak is to check the air coming from your registers (vents). If the air is not as cold as it should be, it could mean an HVAC refrigerant leak.
3. Hissing sounds coming from your indoor unit
An AC refrigerant leak is caused by holes or cracks in the coils that circulate the refrigerant. Though hissing could be a sign of a variety of problems, refrigerant leaks are among them. A larger leak may produce a gurgling sound.
4. Coils are frozen
When the refrigerant levels circulating through the evaporator coils is insufficient, the coil swill not adequately absorb heat. This will result in the condensation on the coils to freeze. Sometimes the frozen condensation will begin to melt and drip on the floor. Though ice on the evaporator coil might not seem alarming, it could lead to a system breakdown and could translate into an expensive repair such as a compressor replacement.
5. An AC refrigerant leak equals elevated electric bills
If an AC refrigerant leak is negatively impacting your comfort level and causing you to dial down the thermostat in the hope of getting cooler air, you will be using more electricity. Review your utility bill for inconsistent usage levels especially when compared to the same timeframe last year.
What’s next? Getting a refill is not the answer
You may be tempted to just ask an AC professional to come in and add refrigerant to your system. After all, it’s cheaper than a costly repair. This is not the proper solution for an AC refrigerant leak and beware of any HVAC company that takes this cutting-corners approach. Adding refrigerant could cost you money in the long run because the refrigerant, which is escalating in price, will leak out again and have to be refilled; plus you could see a major expensive repair or replacement if the leak is not addressed.
Learn more: AC Troubleshooting: Refrigerant Leak
Some people might try to use a sealant as a stopgap measure for a small AC refrigerant leak, however, sealant quick-fixes are just that. This temporary solution could end up doing more harm than good because sealants sometimes cause blockages, which can cause more damage to your system.
To fix or not to fix an AC refrigerant leak: that is the question
You should not jump to the conclusion that you have an AC refrigerant leak solely based on a lack of cool air blowing from your vents or your space not being cooled as efficiently as in the past. These symptoms can be caused by a number of factors and not just an AC refrigerant leak. It could be something as simple and inexpensive as replacing clogged filters.
Refrigerant leaks are a common service call and often these leaks are avoidable with routine service. Preventative maintenance plans can prevent costly problems.
It is advisable to call in a reputable HVAC service company, such as Arista Air, to inspect your system for an AC refrigerant leak. Arista Air has the equipment to detect leaks rapidly, which means less expense to their clients. If your system only has a couple of small leaks, AC refrigerant leak repair is a common course of action.
If there are many leaks or serious ones, your 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, your system will perform at a higher level and you will save on electric costs.
If you suspect an AC refrigerant leak is the culprit behind your air conditioner’s poor performance, you will have to decide if you will hire a contractor to make an AC refrigerant leak repair or if it’s time to invest in a new HVAC system. If you’re facing this dilemma, read this guide that can help you make this tricky decision: Repair or Replace? A guide to making an informed choice when your HVAC system is down.
Refrigerant R22 phase-out deadline: 2020
Another important issue to bear in mind when pondering solutions to an AC refrigerant leak is which refrigerant your system uses. That’s because the federal Environmental Protection Agency has mandated that R22 refrigerant no longer be used after 2020 due to its destructive impact on the Earth’s ozone layer.
Now that the R22 phase-out has been announced, the cost of R22 is on the rise. This has resulted in R22 refrigerant-related repair costs rapidly increasing and once 2020 hits, there will be no more R22 available. If your system was installed before 2010, it likely is cooled with R22. This is something to consider in terms of refilling leaked R22 and also whether it makes sense to effectuate costly repairs.
With the sun setting on the use of R22 at the start of 2020 and if your system is cooled with R22, you should carefully weigh whether an expensive repair is worth the investment, especially on an older system. If your system is in tiptop shape, an option may be to retrofit it to use a new refrigerant. Learn more about your options from this informative guide: R22 Refrigerant Phase Out: Do You Need to Replace Your AC?.