There aren’t too many homeowners out there who really understand how air conditioners work. This isn’t a bad thing or something you’re expected to know a lot about—after all, that’s what the professionals are here for!
However, because many homeowners aren’t well-informed, they can be led astray by amateur repair people or handy people claiming to be HVAC pros. In fact, one of the most common things these folks tell homeowners is that refrigerant is something that gets “used up,” like gasoline from a car, and must be refilled (what we in the industry call recharged) once a year during maintenance or more often. And this is a refrigerant myth that could potentially harm your air conditioner. Read on to learn how!
First, What Is Refrigerant?
Refrigerant is a chemical blend that flows through your AC system. Whether you have a traditional central air conditioner, a ductless system, or a standard heat pump, refrigerant is used for the cooling process.
Refrigerant allows the air conditioner to draw in warm air from your home into the system and get cooled before it’s returned into your home. Heat transfer simply isn’t possible without refrigerant, and it isn’t as successful with too little refrigerant.
Refrigerant is a recycled fluid–your air conditioner is supplied with enough upon manufacturing to ideally last its entire lifespan. Without refrigerant, your AC system can’t remove warm air from the home or return that chilled air into your home. It’s a closed system, meaning it never leaves the system–unless there is a leak!
The Truth About Refrigerant Leaks
Whether it is in its gas or liquid mode, there is only one reason refrigerant will ever escape from your air conditioner—a leak. And yes, it will need to be recharged at this point. But once your system is recharged and the source of the leak is repaired, you should theoretically never need this service again.
Leaks can occur anywhere that refrigerant flows within your system. This includes the refrigerant line itself, the evaporator coil, or the condenser coil. The area where the leak occurs can be the smallest pinprick, and you might not even be able to see it. It is actually most commonly “spotted” as a sound rather than a visual element. Leaks are usually detected by a hissing or bubbling noise, depending on what stage in the process the refrigerant is in.
Refrigerant leaks are serious, and they require immediate attention so that your air conditioner doesn’t suffer any more than it needs to. Unchecked leaks can lead to a number of problems, including compressor failure and frozen coils.
The compressor is the heart of your air conditioner, and if it fails, you may need to replace the entire air conditioner to restore the efficiency and power you had before.
The evaporator coil is the actual component that absorbs heat from your home, and if it freezes over it can’t do its job. You’ll be left with an inefficient and potentially even broken down air conditioner.
So if you suspect or know your air conditioner is losing refrigerant it’s time to give the pros a call!