You’ve probably heard that refrigerant is a necessary component for your air conditioner to keep your home comfortable during our hot and sticky summers. This is probably the extent of your knowledge about refrigerant, right? That’s okay, that’s what we are here for!
While you don’t need to know everything about refrigerant, it’s important to understand just how important it is and why a leak is bad news. Read on to learn more!
Refrigerant Is Not a Fuel
First thing’s first: we want to clear up a common misconception. Homeowners often think that the refrigerant in their air conditioners is a form of fuel, but this actually is not the case.
Your air conditioning system doesn’t “use up” any refrigerant in order to operate. Its source of energy is electricity, either from the power grid or from the sun if you utilize solar panels.
Your air conditioner is supplied with enough refrigerant upon manufacturing—or rather charged with enough refrigerant—to last its entire lifespan … unless you have a leak.
The role of refrigerant in your AC system is to carry out a heat exchange process. This refrigerant shifts between liquid and gaseous states in order to absorb heat from inside the home and then release it outdoors. It doesn’t dissipate during this process.
The Danger of Refrigerant Leaks
Since all air conditioners have a set charge or level of refrigerant, losing any of it puts the operation of the system in jeopardy. Yes, the air conditioner can begin losing its cooling capacity when you have a low refrigerant charge. But this isn’t all that happens!
Your entire air conditioner is designed for a specific charge and refrigerant pressure. If these levels change at all, the whole system is in jeopardy. One of the most common problems associated with refrigerant loss is a frozen evaporator coil. Ironically, because there is less cold refrigerant moving through the evaporator coil, the coil won’t be able to absorb as much heat as usual, and therefore can freeze over.
The remaining refrigerant can’t warm up as it should, and will instead stay below freezing. If you discover ice on your air conditioner’s coils, this is probably what happened!
The component most threatened by refrigerant loss in your air conditioner is the compressor—the heart of your air conditioning system and the place where energy is applied to the refrigerant to change its pressure and cause it to circulate through the rest of the system.
When the refrigerant charge is too low, the compressor can overheat, and eventually burn out. As a result, your air conditioner simply won’t be capable of delivering cooling. Typically if a compressor fails, it calls for a total system replacement!
“So, How Do I Know If I Have a Leak?”
You may hear a hissing noise coming from your air conditioner, or a bubbling noise. Depending on what stage the refrigerant is in, this is either indicative of gas refrigerant or liquid refrigerant exiting the system.
Another sign you may have a refrigerant leak is that your air conditioner is struggling to keep you cool.