Refrigerant is vital in the proper operation of your central air conditioning system. When refrigerant is low or not properly charged, then your AC won’t function at peak performance. You’ll notice a distinct difference in the comfort level of your home’s temperature. Whether you are comfortable replacing refrigerant on your own or you need an HVAC repair company to do it, here are some signs to help verify your central AC is low on refrigerant.
Avoid costly AC repairs with regular maintenance. Call your Las Vegas and Henderson air conditioning experts today at (702) 790-8277.
Signs Your AC is Low on Refrigerant
1. Increased electric bills.
If your AC system has a refrigerant issue, it’ll have to work harder and run longer to keep your house at the set temperature. Check your electric bills from the same time last year and compare usage amounts. Unless you’ve had a major rate increase or your area is suffering from a record-breaking heatwave, these amounts should be similar.
2. Indoor temperature isn’t comfortable.
Most systems move the heat from the inside of your home to the outside. It runs the warm air through the system where it’s cooled by the compressor, condenser and evaporator coils and returns cool air inside. If you notice it’s taking longer to cool down your home or the air blowing out of your vents seems warm, it could be a refrigerant problem. You could also have a compressor issue, so make sure the outside unit isn’t dirty and the fan is set to ON and not AUTO, before you call a technician.
3. Ice buildup on the outside unit.
Cold AC refrigerant flows through the unit’s evaporator coil. When the refrigerant is low, this coil gets too cold and causes the liquid refrigerant to flow back to the copper lines. The surrounding moisture on these lines will freeze up, so check your outside unit for ice.
4. Hissing noise is noticeable.
Central AC refrigerant doesn’t evaporate or run out without a reason. The only reason your refrigerant would be low is from a leak. If this leak is large, then you may hear a slight hissing or bubbling noise as it escapes. This noise can come from any point along the refrigerant line, so listen closely at different points to see if you hear anything.
Methods to Detect Refrigerant Leaks
Your central AC unit is a sealed, pressurized system and every system leaks to some degree due to flaws in fittings and seams. Leaks may be small enough you never have a low refrigerant issue. Some small leaks when exposed to unit vibrations or temperature/environmental stress can become larger leaks over time. If you’ve seen signs of leakage, but want to verify a leak prior to calling an air conditioning contractor, there are several methods you can try.
1. Visual detection.
Although this method isn’t very reliable, you can visually inspect your lines for signs of oily residue. When refrigerant leaks, it carries oil from the compressor with it. This sometimes leaves an oily film at the leak’s location. Inspect the unit for oil stains before you do anything that might remove this residue.
2. Perform a soap test.
Using a soap solution is the oldest and cheapest method of detecting leaks in an AC system. Apply a soap and water combination to suspected leak points with a squeeze bottle and the escaping refrigerant should theoretically produce bubbles. This method can be effective in detecting continuous leaks, but usually ineffective on windy days or when dealing with very small leaks.
3. Use an electronic detector.
Often called a sniffer, an electronic refrigerant detector is a device that emits a sound and/or visual indication when the probe detects a leak. You can buy relatively inexpensive models, but again, your results are only somewhat reliable, especially in windy conditions.
What to Do When Your Line Is Leaking
Low levels of refrigerant in your central AC doesn’t just affect your home’s comfort level. It can also severely damage your air conditioner. If your AC’s refrigerant is flowing back into the outside unit, it can damage the compressor. Replacing a compressor is usually so expensive, it’s cheaper to buy an entire new unit.
If you’ve found a leak in your system, contact an HVAC professional to handle the repairs for you as refrigerant can be dangerous to handle.