Are you one of many homeowners who still believes the myth that air conditioners are meant to lose refrigerant over time? That refrigerant is like fuel to an air conditioner, so it depletes like gasoline does from a car? Fortunately, you’re definitely not alone in believing this misconception, but unfortunately, it is a myth that could do your air conditioner harm.
How so? Well here’s the thing: if your air conditioner is losing refrigerant, it means there is a leak that shouldn’t exist. The leak needs to be located and patched up, so then the refrigerant can be refilled—what those of us in the industry call recharged. Why does all this matter? Read on!
Refrigerant: What’s the Point?
Well … the complete functionality of your air conditioner, that’s the point. Without refrigerant, your air conditioner is merely a complex fan that moves air rather than chills it.
Air conditioners don’t “generate” cold the way a furnace generates heat (by combusting fuel or using electric resistance). When you feel the rush of cold air coming from the vents, you are feeling the absence of heat. The refrigerant cycle is what allows for heat to be removed from your indoor air.
The inside unit of your air conditioner houses what’s called the evaporator coil. This is where the refrigerant evaporates in your system. As it does this, it draws heat out of the air surrounding it. From there, the refrigerant cools it and then the cooled air is distributed through the various vents in your home. From central air conditioners to heat pumps and ductless systems, all air conditioners require some form of this problem.
Why a Refrigerant Leak Is Bad News
As you might have guessed by now, a low level of refrigerant, called a low refrigerant charge, restricts the overall cooling capacity of your AC. Air conditioners are designed to work with a specific amount of refrigerant and a low level always suggests a problem. Refrigerant is not a fuel! It is consistently recycled through your system over and over in a closed loop.
If your air conditioner is losing refrigerant, as we stated above, it means you have a leak. Yes, it needs to be refilled/recharged. But more importantly, a professional must accurately pinpoint the leak and patch it up before restoring functionality to your cooling system. Without doing this you can suffer from:
- Ice development on the evaporator coil, which prevents it from absorbing the heat from your home.
- Loss of cooling power coming through the vents.
- A broken-down compressor, which could lead to a complete air conditioner failure and premature replacement need.
So how do you know if you have a leak, aside from a pro telling you during maintenance? Some signs include the loss of cooling we just noted above, a hissing sound, or a bubbling/gurgling noise coming from the refrigerant line. Truth be told, if you notice any unusual or new noises coming from your air conditioner, the best thing you can do for the system is to call on the pros for an inspection.