All of sudden, your air conditioner is not cooling your home the way it used to. If you've checked the usual suspects such as the thermostat and the filter and can't seem to find the problem, then the issue may be caused by a refrigerant leak. Most air conditioners use a refrigerant such as Freon to help cool the air, and a leak in the system can lead to poor performance and increased energy bills. Here are some common causes of refrigerant leaks and how you can determine if your system has one.
Cause of Refrigerant Leaks
To fully understand why refrigerant leaks are a problem, it's important to know that refrigerant is a non-consumable item in an air conditioner. The unit doesn't "use up" Freon to chill the air like a humidifier uses water to add humidity to a room. The cooling system inside the machine is sealed and, when properly maintained, should never need refrigerant added to it.
Therefore, if a system needs refrigerant, it's because there is a leak somewhere in the air conditioner. Common causes of these types of leaks include:
- Formic acid – Found naturally in soil, this acid can damage the copper coils near or in the ground over time and lead to a refrigerant leak.
- Leak in evaporator or condenser coils – Refrigerant passes through these coils as to help cool air and will escape the machine if there are holes or cracks in them.
- Manufacturer defects – The machine may not have been properly put together at the factory or damage may have occurred as it was going down the line, leading to holes or cracks that allow refrigerant to escape.
- Accidental damage – A line may have been punctured during the shipping or installation process or you may have accidentally caused damage while working on various home improvement projects such as digging around the yard or putting nails in the walls near the unit's pipes.
Regardless of the cause, any holes or cracks in the line must be sealed or the pipes replaced. Simply adding more refrigerant to the unit is a temporary fix at best, because it will only leak out again. Additionally, these leaks can cause high energy bills, because the unit is not cooling as effectively as it should be, leading to long run times and constant cycling. According to some experts, losing just 10 percent of the Freon in a system can result in a 20 percent increase in energy bills.
Signs You May Have a Leak
The most obvious sign of a leaky cooling system is low airflow or lukewarm air coming from the registers. The home takes a long time to cool, if it does at all, and your energy bills are higher than normal.
Ice on the evaporator coils or the pipes outside the home is another sign the refrigerant is leaking. Instead of cooling the air passing through the machine, the refrigerant is being blown on the exterior parts. If this is the case, it's doubly important to close the leaks, because the ice can damage the system even further, increasing the cost of repair.
Freon is colorless, but it is not odorless. There may be a sweet smell like chloroform near the air conditioner. This gas is also toxic to humans. Breathing it in can cause heart palpitations. Additionally, Freon vapors reduce the amount of oxygen in the air, so you may start having difficulty breathing in areas where the leak is particularly bad.
Refrigerant leaks in an air conditioner require the assistance of a professional to fix. If you suspect your a/c unit has sprung a leak or two, contact a heating and air conditioning repair company like Christian Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc. for assistance.