When it comes to maintaining your central air conditioner, the refrigerant level is one of the most important factors to keep an eye on. Knowing when to call a professional for a refrigerant recharge will help you avoid being caught off guard when your home is suddenly no longer cool and comfortable.
Here is everything you should know about low levels of AC refrigerant.
Problems Caused by Low Refrigerant
When your air conditioner is low on refrigerant, it loses the ability to transfer heat from inside your home to the outside. This means that the air that is blown over your AC coils will no longer cool properly, so your vents will start to circulate warm air through your home. If low refrigerant is to blame for poor cooling, your air may start out cool but gradually get warmer as the AC runs.
Another risk of low refrigerant is the damage it can cause to your air conditioner. The AC will still try to condense gaseous refrigerant to a liquid when it reaches the condenser, but the lower volume of refrigerant can cause the coils to reach below-freezing temperatures and freeze over. Frozen coils restrict airflow to the condenser and increase the strain on your air conditioner, potentially shortening its life.
A leak in the refrigerant is also a serious concern for homeowners. AC refrigerant is highly toxic to both humans and animals and is known to deplete the ozone layer.
Causes of Low Refrigerant
Many homeowners are under the impression that refrigerant is used up over time, like gasoline in your car. However, this is not the case. AC refrigerant circulates in a closed system and continually cycles between a liquid and gaseous state to transfer heat without losing volume. This means that low refrigerant in your air conditioner is a sure sign of a leak.
Normal component wear and tear that occurs as you use your air conditioner is the most common cause of refrigerant leaks. Parts such as the rubber seal around the AC service valve or the assembly joints on the outdoor condenser can wear and allow refrigerant to escape.
Another common cause of refrigerant leaks is a puncture in the refrigerant lines themselves. This may result from physical damage to the refrigerant lines, although this is less common because the lines are made of sturdy copper tubing. More commonly, trace amounts of formaldehyde in the air create formic acid on the coils and refrigerant lines that causes them to corrode.
Detection of Refrigerant Leaks
The most obvious sign of low refrigerant that homeowners can detect is ice on the outdoor condenser or indoor evaporator coils. Your system may also need a recharge if your indoor air isn’t getting cool and is more humid than it should be. However, these problems can sometimes be attributed to other causes, such as airflow blockages. Fortunately, there’s one more easy way to detect refrigerant leaks: listening for them.
The refrigerant in your air conditioner is highly pressurized. When there is a leak in your refrigerant lines or inside the condenser, you can often hear refrigerant escaping as this pressure is released. Turn your air conditioner off, and listen for hissing or gurgling noises near the outside unit. No other AC problems can create these specific sounds, so if you hear them it’s a good sign you should call a technician.
Repairing a refrigerant leak and charging your system is an easy way to extend its life and keep it operating at maximum efficiency. If you suspect your AC is low on refrigerant or have any other HVAC concerns, contact Carrano Air HVAC Contractors, Inc , today!