How Do I Know If My Air Conditioner Has A Refrigerant Leak?

image of a homeowner feeling hot due to air conditioner refrigerant leak

When your air conditioner starts leaking refrigerant, you are not likely going to easily identify its location. A refrigerant leak is quite common and is one of the main causes of HVAC inefficiency. There are also health issues that can be caused by leaks that remain unfixed for a long time. As a homeowner, you need to understand how an AC refrigerant leak can affect the quality of your life and the comfort of your household members. Let’s take a closer look at what the possible causes are and which solutions are best.

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How To Tell If You Have An Air Conditioner Refrigerant Leak

First, let’s find out what a refrigerant does to the HVAC system and the common factors that lead to a leak.

How The AC’s Refrigerant Works

image of a manometer and air conditioner

The refrigerant or coolant used in an air conditioning system is a compound that is either liquid or gas. To cool the air, the refrigerant (R-410a or R-22, for example), is pushed towards certain components of the HVAC system by the compressor. When the coolant is pulled in, the compressor quickly compresses the coolant when it is pulled in. This action traps the molecules of the refrigerant into a small space. The cramped space causes the molecules to collide more frequently, producing heat.

The refrigerant is then moved through the condenser, eliminating the heat. Fans within the system also help remove heat and keep the temperature of the refrigerant low. When the refrigerant cools down, it turns liquid. This liquid is passed through the evaporator to cool it further. The air that passes over the components called the evaporator coils is now cooled down so it can be released into the rooms or spaces through the air vents.

Ambient air is cooled down through the actions involving the refrigerant. Without the refrigerant, your AC system will fail at lowering the temperature of the air. An AC that has a refrigerant leak will have a serious reduction in its capability to cool your home or workspaces.

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Causes Of An Air Conditioner Refrigerant Leak

Below, we discuss some of the common causes of AC refrigerant leaks.

Air Conditioner Corrosion

HVAC systems have metal components that are susceptible to corrosion. Copper tube walls within the indoor coils, for example, can develop rust over time. Rust, as we know, can lead to holes and cracks, weakening the metal and allowing the refrigerant to leak.

Weakened Joints And Connections Within The AC Unit

Older HVAC systems will gradually lose their efficiency and durability over time. Weakened joints and connections can cause erosion within the air conditioning system.

Improper Air Conditioner Installation

image of an air conditioner installation

An improperly installed central air conditioning unit will likely have parts that do not fit correctly. This could cause leaks to occur.

AC Factory Defects

A defective AC unit is often the result of incorrect assembly or improper handling during shipment. If nothing else is wrong with your AC and it still leaks, the problem may be a coolant leak.

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 Air Conditioner Wear-And-Tear

Even the best equipment will give in to wear-and-tear as a result of regular use. The rubber seals that are used to protect certain AC components can become worn out, allowing the coolant to escape.

What You Should Look for

image of a homeowner listening for hissing coming from air conditioner

An AC system that has a coolant leak will give off telltale signs. These include:

  • A Spike In Your Energy Bill: The reduced efficiency of your AC system means it will no longer be able to cool your home the way it did. To reach the ideal indoor temperature, the AC system has to work harder and consume more energy. As a result, you have to pay more for electricity for the same level of comfort.
  • AC Takes A While To Produce Cool Air: A coolant leak causes a reduction in the cooling power of your air conditioner. This affects your comfort significantly, even after your AC has been running for a long time.
  • Increased Humidity: If you notice an increase in humidity indoors even with the AC on, it means that the system is having trouble performing properly. This often happens due to a refrigerant leak, causing the AC to take longer to dehumidify an enclosed space.
  • Frozen Evaporator Coil: If an insufficient amount of refrigerant goes through the evaporator coils, the coils will fail to absorb the heat. This causes condensation to form in the coils and freeze. If you notice ice on the coils, the likely culprit is a refrigerant leak.
  • AC Leak: An actual leak can be caused by ice on the evaporator coils that melted. Once the ice turns to liquid, it will drip on the floor and form a puddle.
  • Hissing Sounds. The sound of air slipping through a hole or crack or gurgling water can be an indication that you have a refrigerant leak. A gurgling sound is more worrying because it means that the leak is larger.
  • Low Air Conditioner Airflow: An insufficient amount of refrigerant will lead to an insufficient amount of cool air being distributed through the vents. If you have low airflow, a leak may be the problem.


Is An Air Conditioner Refrigerant Leak Dangerous?

There are certain risks associated with a refrigerant leak. If the refrigerant is in gaseous form and you inhale a good amount, you might experience dizziness, shortness of breath, loss of coordination, and poor concentration. It is also likely that you could develop skin rashes. Coming in direct contact with the coolant can also cause a chemical burn or frostbite. If you happen to inhale a significant amount of coolant, you could increase your risk of developing seizures or losing consciousness. In a worst-case scenario, exposure could be fatal.


Air Conditioner Repair Or Replace: Which Is Better?

In some cases, repairing the AC unit can be the right solution but this is usually the case only if the problem is simple. Unfortunately, a refrigerant leak is not one such problem. It can actually lead to more damage or serious consequences that cannot be corrected by a simple DIY. If you happen to have a newer air conditioner, fixing the unit yourself will likely void the warranty. Instead, call your local HVAC contractor for assistance.

Another issue you need to know is the phase-out of the R-22 compound, an older type of coolant. The phase-out began in 2020, which means that the compound is no longer as readily available as it used to be. Whatever is left is only available in limited quantities at a higher cost. If your current AC still uses R-22, the cost of a refrigerant refill may prompt you to consider getting a replacement unit instead of having your AC repaired.

Old, leaky AC systems also tend to be seriously inefficient. Consider calculating and comparing the cost of repairs against the cost of purchasing new equipment and it’s likely that you can save more by buying a new unit. This is particularly true if you choose a model that has an ENERGY STAR® certification and a high SEER rating. You not only enjoy a more efficient model, but you also get to enjoy better performance and reliable comfort.

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If you notice signs of a refrigerant leak, it is important that you act right away. The problem can easily be rectified if it is fixed in the earliest time possible. However, if the problem persists or occurs frequently, it may be time to have your AC replaced. Ask your HVAC contractor which option is best for your home.

Call Townsend Energy For All Of Your HVAC Requirements

te logoFor all your HVAC needs, make sure to call Townsend Energy. We have professionally certified technicians who offer high-quality heating and cooling services in Northeastern Massachusetts, Southern New Hampshire, and Maine. Our skilled and experienced techs conduct excellent HVAC maintenance, installations, replacements, and repairs correctly and promptly.

Our company guarantees highly affordable and competitive HVAC service costs in the area. Rest assured, our maintenance can help improve your home comfort and energy efficiency. We can also recommend the best repair or replacement solution without sacrificing your budget. All our services come with a guarantee because your satisfaction is important to us. Book an AC tune-up or service appointment with Townsend Energy today for a free, in-home estimate.

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