We diagnosed a refrigerant leak in a client’s air conditioner. Because of the rising cost of Freon (or R-22, the refrigerant used in her system) and the age of her equipment, she chose to get a quote on replacement instead of trying to repair the unit.
She asked the salesman, “How do you know there’s a leak?”
“When our service technician was out, he found your unit to be low on refrigerant.”
“Doesn’t it just use some as it runs?”
The answer is no, it doesn’t. Your air conditioner’s refrigerant is in a pressurized, closed system. It does not “burn” Freon as it runs like a car might burn oil. When an air conditioner is low on refrigerant it usually means there is a leak. Another refrigerant system people have in their homes is a refrigerator. You’ve never been told it needs refrigerant because it got “used up,” right? Leaks happen more often for air conditioning units because they are subjected to a hasher environment than your kitchen refrigerator.
What else could cause low refrigerant in my A/C?
- If an air conditioner has been recently installed, especially when it is too cold, the installer can’t get an accurate reading as they add the refrigerant. If someone tells you that your new air conditioner is low on refrigerant, it makes sense to try adding some to the proper level rather than assuming there is a leak.
- Someone also could have removed some refrigerant, whether trying to abuse it as a drug or for some other reason. Locking devices are available to protect others from removing the refrigerant from your air conditioner. There are even locks that tie into a home alarm system.
Your air conditioner is designed to work best with a precise amount of refrigerant. If a small amount leaks out it may still run, but it will not run as efficiently and will not cool your home as quickly or completely.
A technician might offer to “top off” your unit with some added refrigerant. Unless the leak is substantial, this will get the cooling back on. However, after a while you will be right back at the same problem again because you haven’t addressed the underlying leak. The money you invested will only have been a short term solution—and wasted money.
There are several ways to find a leak but one of the best is by adding dye to your unit. The technician will return several days later to see where the dye leaked out. As you can see in the picture above, the dye can make a leak very easy to find. Leaks can be found in many places, some of which are easier to repair than others. In a newer system it might make sense to see if your leak can be easily repaired before looking into replacement.
For more information about refrigerant leaks in air conditioners, contact P.K. Wadsworth Heating & Cooling. We’ve been helping northeast Ohio homeowners stay comfortable since 1936.
Kim Nemecek works at P.K. Wadsworth Heating & Cooling. After growing up in Cleveland, she lived in Florida for many years, working at an air conditioning company there. Kim has four grown children, two grandchildren and two spoiled dogs. She lives in Solon with her husband, Todd.
The opinions and statements contained in this article are for general informational purposes only and are not instructions. Only trained, licensed and experienced personnel should attempt installation/repair. The author assumes no liability for the opinions/statements made in this article. Any individual attempting a repair or installation based on this article does so at their own risk of loss.