How Often Should You Recharge Your Home AC?
This is one of the most common questions that professional HVAC technicians get, and the short answer is, “Hopefully, never!” You may be scratching your head, but let us explain.
It’s a common misconception amongst homeowners that refrigerant is something that depletes over time, much like fuel in a gas-powered appliance. This, however, is not the case with refrigerant. This important fluid continuously cycles through your air conditioner or heat pump, effectively transferring heat to bring you a comfortable indoor climate.
What Is Refrigerant?
Depending on the model of your air conditioner, the refrigerant is either R-22 (Freon) or the more environmentally friendly R-410A. R-22 is in the process of being phased out, which is making it increasingly more expensive and hard to get. However, if your AC is older, it’s going to depend on Freon for its refrigerant charge—which is going to cost you more.
Refrigerant is a pressurized chemical composition that is used to cycle heat from inside your house to the outside, where it cools down and is recycled. This is why we make sure to tell homeowners that your unit should not be running out of refrigerant normally.
How Refrigerant Works in Your Air Conditioner
Upon installation, your HVAC unit is supplied with enough refrigerant to ideally last its entire lifecycle. There is a chance that at some point, you will need a refrigerant refill (referred to as a recharge). But if you do, it’s not a natural part of the cooling process—it means you have a leak.
The source of the leak must be found and the refrigerant line repaired in order to restore system efficiency. Otherwise, your air conditioning system can begin to experience a number of problems, including:
A decrease in cooling output. If a leak does develop in the refrigerant line, then your air conditioner’s output will drop along with the drop in refrigerant levels. Eventually, your refrigerant level will decrease to a point that it will cause your cooling system to break down completely. If you notice a drop in cooling output, it’s important that you call for professional repairs right away. This problem may be caused by something else, such as an air handler issue—but either way, a decrease in cooling output warrants an examination.
Lukewarm air coming from the vents. Instead of decreased airflow, you may feel warm air coming from your vents if you have a refrigerant leak. Having too little refrigerant in your air conditioner puts a large amount of stress on it. You could end up doing pretty serious and irreversible damage to the compressor if you’re running your AC with too low of a refrigerant charge.
Ice forming on the evaporator coil. Through the refrigerant process, the fluid shifts from a gaseous to liquid form, and is placed under a great deal of pressure before it enters the evaporator coils. The valve releases a precise amount into the coils, where the refrigerant then shifts back to gaseous form. As this occurs, it pulls heat from the nearby air, cooling it in the process. When you have a refrigerant leak, however, frost or ice will form on the outside of the evaporator coil. This ice serves as an insulating barrier between the refrigerant and the air that it’s meant to cool, meaning your cooling system will have to work even harder to do its job—until the problem gets so bad that the AC system can’t do its job at all.
Signs of a Potential Refrigerant Leak
The most tell-tale sign that you’re dealing with a refrigerant leak is the noise that an AC makes when it’s not up to full charge. When your AC doesn’t have a full amount of refrigerant, it will get air bubbles in the refrigerant line, which will make a “hissing” or “bubbling” sound. These are extremely noticeable and are usually the easiest way to tell that you’ve got a problem in your air conditioner.
Another way to tell if you’ve got a refrigerant leak is if your AC has dramatically reduced cooling power. Without the use of enough refrigerant, your AC will have an extremely difficult time cooling off your house and will have to work much harder to achieve nominal results.
What Does a Refrigerant Leak Mean?
Refrigerant leaks aren’t an easy fix. They can be costly, require a recharge of refrigerant, and can be a signal that your AC is reaching the end of its lifespan. That’s why you should always contact a professional to take a look at it. Leaks like these are not meant to be fixed by yourself, and the chemicals can be irritating to your hands, eyes, skin, and other parts of your body.
Make sure you know how old your AC is and the kind of refrigerant it runs on before you consider recharging it and paying for repairs. Sometimes, upgrading to a new AC with R-410A instead of Freon can be a more cost-effective solution in the long run.
If you believe that your refrigerant is leaking, then give the pros at Premier Indoor Comfort Systems LLC a call as soon as possible at (770) 749-7667. Based in Canton, our local AC repair team proudly serve customers in Marietta and throughout the greater Atlanta area.