If you’ve ever experienced a problem with your air conditioning, there’s a good chance you’ve looked at the system and wondered what could be wrong. Have any fans stopped turning? Is something wrong with the vents? Maybe the thermostat just isn’t connected right or there is an electrical issue.
Ironically, the last thing on your mind happens to be the most important. The refrigerant is an often un-talked about component of your A/C system, but it contributes directly to its functionality. The refrigerant lines are what’s used to chill and condition the air in your home, and when there is a problem with them, you don’t get the cool air you want.
If you suspect there may currently be an issue with your refrigerant or your A/C unit in general, it’s important to get professional help as soon as possible so the problem does not get any worse. In the meantime, read on to learn more about refrigerant and the important role it plays in keep your home cool and comfortable.
What Exactly is Refrigerant?
While most people don’t associate cool air with liquid, that’s exactly what refrigerant is. At least for a good part of the time. It’s really a chemical compound that exists either in a liquid or gaseous state inside the copper coils of your A/C system. There are different types of refrigerants used today, but they all generally work the same way. The refrigerant moves between the indoor and outdoor units of your A/C and transitions between its liquid and gas states. This allows it to absorb heat from the surrounding indoor air and carry it out, returning with freshly cold air in its place. In compression systems, a pressurizer and condenser are used to cause the vapor to liquefy as needed. But even though it is going through a constant state of evaporating into a low-pressure gas and then liquefying repeatedly as it conditions the air around it, refrigerant stays contained inside the A/C system the entire time.
So, if refrigerant is blocked or leaking anywhere, this can prevent it from doing its job (which of course is cooling the air in your home). It is important to get these problems fixed quickly, or you may soon find yourself looking at an entire system replacement.
Does Refrigerant Run Out or Need to Be Refilled
It’s possible that you may have some friends or family members tell you that you simply need to “top off” or “refill” your refrigerant if you are experiencing leaks or other problems. Sadly, this is largely because some so-called HVAC “professionals” have cut corner by adding more refrigerant to their customer’s leaking systems and calling it a day. However, this is wrong, and it can even cause further problems.
The truth is that your A/C system’s refrigerant should never leak or “run low.” All A/C units are designed to use the refrigerant they come with for the duration of their time in service. Refilling it either delays an existing problem that is bound to get worse over time, or it could even cause more serious issues right away. Furthermore, there are different types of refrigerant, and combining different kinds can cause further damage to the system.
That said, if an experienced HVAC technician examines your system closely and determines that a significant amount of refrigerant has been lost via a leak, they may determine that a replacement is in store. This will include fully repairing the leak and replacing (or “recharging”) the refrigerant compound in the system. The solution is not, and never should be, simply “topping off” the refrigerant in the system.
Signs of Refrigerant Problems
Your refrigerant is meant to last the lifetime of the A/C system, but that doesn’t mean that problems can’t come up from time to time. It’s time to call in a professional if you notice any of the following signs:
- Hissing, bubbling or other unpleasant noises coming from the walls or vents (or the unit itself)
- Ice or frozen spots forming along the unit’s evaporator coil.
- Uneven cooling / warm spots in areas of your home that used to be cool while the A/C was running.
- Problems with your home not cooling or getting cold in general (constantly trying to set your A/C to cooler or more powerful settings is also a sign).
In many areas, you may actually face legal repercussions if a refrigerant problem is known about and not handled correctly. For example, intentionally venting refrigerant into the environment is prohibited, as is disposing of old or leaked refrigerant improperly. In fact, you could face some hefty fines if your A/C is found to be leaking refrigerant into the surrounding community for some time without being fixed. The good news is that a professional HVAC tech will be able to address these issues and dispose of any refrigerant (if necessary) properly, as well as make sure the entire system is up to code.
Give us a call today, and we’ll help with all your A/C refrigerant questions and needs.