Is your air conditioner developing an icy buildup? Have you noticed that your system is short-cycling -- meaning that it is turning on and off quickly? These could be signs of a refrigerant leak. Refrigerant leaks are rather common as air conditioners age, so it's important that you know the basics about them. Here are four important facts to get you started.
1. Refilling the coils does little if the leak is not repaired.
You may hear of people having their air conditioner recharged -- or in other words, refilled with refrigerant -- only to continue having issues a year or two later. This happens because they get the coils filled, but they do not have the leak repaired. So, the new refrigerant leaks out just like the old refrigerant did. If you hire someone to recharge your air conditioner, make sure they repair the actual leak before adding the new refrigerant.
2. You should not recharge the air conditioner yourself.
The amount of coolant your coils can accommodate is very specific. If you add a little too much or not enough, the unit may hyper-cool or overheat. Adding too much refrigerant can cause permanent damage to the air conditioner. For these reasons, you do not want to recharge the air conditioner yourself.
The money you save by doing so will soon be flushed away when you find that you did not refill the coils properly. A special device is needed to measure the levels of refrigerant in the coils accurately, and it often costs more to buy this device than to hire someone to refill your system.
3. Old refrigerants may not be available.
If you have an older air conditioner, prepare for the possibility that your HVAC contractor may want to replace the entire unit rather than recharge it. The refrigerant used in old AC units, known as R-22, is being phased out and is therefore very expensive -- if able to be found at all in your area. You may be better off buying a new unit that uses R-401A, the newer and more eco-friendly refrigerant. If this one every needs recharging, R-401A is readily available and affordable.
4. Recharging your AC won't solve every problem.
Homeowners often assume that when their air conditioner stops cooling, it needs more refrigerant. But some AC problems are caused by issues with the wiring, dirty filter, and other problems. Have an HVAC repair team come look your air conditioner over before you assume that low refrigerant levels are the problem.
For more information, contact your local AC service.