Why Does My Air Conditioner Need More Refrigerant?

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Air Conditioners on the side of a homeA refrigerant leak may cause the problem. 

A major heatwave hits Southern California, registering sweltering temperatures between 90 and 100 degrees. You turn on your air conditioner but, unfortunately, it does not blow cold air.

You call someone for air conditioning services and he simply tells you that you need more refrigerant in your system. You have your unit recharged and pay for air conditioner repair. Your unit works for a while until the same problem happens and the cycle repeats itself.

Now you ask, why does it seem that my air conditioner needs more refrigerant more often? In truth, it should not happen since air conditioners do not run out of refrigerant unless there is a leak somewhere in the refrigerant line. The leak could be in the coils, line set, or the condenser itself.

Simply recharging or adding more refrigerant to your air conditioner is a band-aid solution that you should not mistake for proper air conditioner maintenance. If the leak in the air conditioner is not fixed, your unit will eventually freeze up and stop working. Also, you could cause more damage to the environment.

If you have not been informed about a leak in your unit, it is either you are being scammed or your current HVAC technician is inefficient. Call us now, we can help repair it immediately.

What is Refrigerant? 

To understand how refrigerant works, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of the refrigeration process. An air conditioner operates based on two principles. First, the Combined Gas Law, which states that when you heat a gas, pressure also increases and vice versa. Second, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, which says that heat moves from hotter to colder bodies naturally through external work.

Air conditioners work by transferring heat from the indoors to the outdoors. The air in your room is cooled down as heat is removed and pumped outside.

Refrigerant is a fluid used to pull heat out of your room to be released outside. An A/C pressurizes and depressurizes the refrigerant to decrease or increase its temperature.

This is how the refrigeration cycle works:

  • Air flows over the evaporator coil that contains the extremely cold refrigerant. The refrigerant absorbs the heat and transforms from a cold liquid to a warm vapor. 
  • The vaporized refrigerant enters the compressor to increase its pressure and temperature. 
  • After the refrigerant’s temperature exceeds the temperature of the outside air, it flows to the condenser coil. A condenser fan blows outdoor air over the hot outdoor condenser coil, removes heat from the refrigerant, and condenses it back to its liquid form. 
  • The liquid refrigerant is pumped back inside and a metering device depressurizes it by expanding it and increasing its volume. The cold liquid refrigerant flows back to the evaporator coil to again absorb heat from the air.  

If your unit is more than 10 years old, it probably uses HCFH-22 (R-22) refrigerant. The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has prohibited the production and sales of air conditioners that use R-22 since January 2010. R-22 depletes the ozone and contributes to climate change.

The more ozone-friendly alternative is R-410, which is more commonly used today. You can check the nameplate on the outdoor condenser of your cooling system to see what refrigerant it uses.

Signs of Refrigerant Leak in Your Air Conditioner 

There are lots of reasons why your air conditioner might underperform or malfunction, such as clogged air filters, faulty wiring, or an imbalanced thermostat. A refrigerant leak shows the following signs you could easily identify:

Your air conditioner takes a long time to cool your room

If your unit has low refrigerant levels, it cannot absorb a lot of heat from a room. Even if you keep your cooling system at its lowest temperature the whole day, this will not lead to cooler room temperature.

Ice forms on the evaporation coil and refrigerant lines 

If you don’t have enough refrigerant in your A/C, the unit can freeze and form ice. The ice could build up from the evaporation coil to the refrigerant lines outside.

Your conditioner blows warm or hot air

Without enough refrigerant, the air coming from the vents will be warmer than usual.  Less air may also be coming out of the vents, caused by a block due to the ice that formed inside the A/C.

You get higher electricity bills

As your unit works nonstop trying to cool your room to no avail, more energy is consumed. Higher energy consumption translates to a higher monthly electricity bill.

You hear a hissing or bubbling sound from your air conditioner 

Small leaks do not cause noise but large ones may cause you’re A/C unit to make a bubbling or hissing noise when it is running, especially in its refrigerant lines.

What Should You Do in Cases of Refrigerant Leak?

If you suspect a refrigerant leak, follow the steps below:

  1. Flip the thermostat switch of your air conditioner from COOL to OFF.
  2. Turn on the fan setting for at least 2 hours to defrost your unit’s frozen parts and pieces.
  3. Find and contact a reputable and established HVAC services company. Only professionals are allowed to handle refrigerants.

Why Do I Need to Hire A Professional?

Refrigerant is extremely dangerous, highly toxic, and flammable. Improper handling of refrigerant can lead to asphyxiation, blindness, and other health hazards. Do not recharge your air conditioner with refrigerant if you are not certified to do so.

Only a professional should handle refrigerant  because there are strict requirements for adding refrigerant, disposing old refrigerant, and repairing refrigerant leaks.

Once done with the inspection of your unit to confirm a leak, your HVAC technician will find the leak using electronic equipment, UV dye, or a bubbling agent. Then, he will evacuate the refrigerant or remove it, fix the leak, recharge the air conditioner, and run tests to ensure that the leak is fixed.

The only time it is impractical to do a leak search and repair is if the system is more than 10 years old. It may be more cost-efficient to replace the unit than search for the leak and repair it, especially if the air conditioner uses R-22 refrigerant, which is more expensive and harmful to the environment.

At Home Comfort USA, our world-class team of HVAC technicians would love to check if your refrigerant is running low. We’d be happy to fix the refrigerant leak in your AC. Call us at (888) 462-0089 or visit our website for fast and reliable air conditioner installation, repair, and maintenance services in Anaheim, Orange County, Los Angeles, Inland Empire, and other areas in Southern California.

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