Checking Your AC System for Refrigerant Leaks

Refrigerant is the lifeblood of your AC system. It is the refrigerant located within the coils of your air conditioner that chills and dehumidifies the air. In theory, the original charge of refrigerant when your air conditioner was installed should last throughout the life of the unit since the liquid is cycled through the system and not actually “used.” Although relatively rare, a refrigerant leak can occur. This not only affects the efficiency and performance of your AC, but it can also be potentially dangerous to the environment as well as animals and humans that come into contact with the substance. The following are signs that you may have a refrigerant leak and should contact a professional HVAC service company.

A Steady Decline in Comfort:

Your air conditioner must have adequate refrigerant in order to remove the heat from your house effectively. Most refrigerant leaks are small and cause the refrigerant level to gradually decline over time. Once the level gets low enough, you will notice a marked difference in the comfort level of your home. If not fixed right away, a leak can eventually cause damage to your AC since the compressor and numerous other parts have to work overtime to keep up with the demand.

Strange Noises:

Any unusual noise coming for your AC can be a sign of a potential problem and should be investigated. In the case of a refrigerant leak, air bubbles can form as the coolant escapes from the unit. This can cause a hissing or bubbling sound as the unit is running.

Dirty Spots on the Refrigerant Line:

A visual inspection of the refrigerant line can often alert you to a leak. The liquid attracts dirt, so the site of the leak will often appear oily or dirty. If the refrigerant line appears dirty, damaged, or discolored in any way, contact an heating and cooling professional for an inspection.

Do-It-Yourself Leak test:

One of the easiest ways to identify a refrigerant leak is to use the old-fashioned bubble test. To do this, use a brush, squeeze bottle, or dauber to apply a soap solution to the areas where you suspect a leak. You should notice bubbles if there is any escaping refrigerant; however, the test may not be effective if the leak is very small or if it is a very windy day.

Professional Leak Detection Tests

Refrigerant leaks commonly occur around the weld joints, valve cores, copper tubing, shipping valves, and filter canisters. Heating and air conditioning technicians typically use one of two different types of electronic detectors to identify the source of refrigerant leaks.

Corona Suppression Detector

A corona suppression detector measures the conductivity of the gases passing between two electrodes. The technician uses an instrument to create a high-voltage spark that travels from one point on the sensor to another, which establishes a baseline reading. A significant drop in the current indicates the presence of an insulating gas, which means that there is a refrigerant leak. The greater the current drop, the higher the concretion of gas and the more significant the leak.

Heated Diode Detectors

A heated diode detector uses a ceramic element to heat up the refrigerant, which causes it to break up into molecules. The chlorine and fluorine molecules, which are positively charged, are then attracted to the device’s center collection wire, which is negatively charged. A current is created as the positively charged ions flow to the collection wire. As the current level increases in relation to the amount of refrigerant, an alarm is triggered alerting the technician to the presence of a leak. Heated diode detectors are typically more accurate than corona suppression detectors in identifying leaks.

Another way to detect leaks is to add a fluorescent dye into the air conditioner’s refrigeration system so that it mixes with the lubricant and circulates throughout the system. The technician then uses a blue light or high-intensity UV lamp to scan the system for leaks, which are indicated by dye that has turned a bright yellow-green color. As a general rule, the technician must use a manufacturer-approved dye that is compatible with your system’s lubricant. Dyes containing co-solvents can degrade the lubricant and damage your air conditioner, so they should be avoided.

Regardless of the method used, refrigerant checks should be a standard part of your annual AC maintenance regimen to ensure that small leaks are identified before they can damage or impact the efficiency of your system.

Repairing Refrigerant Leaks:

Repairing a refrigerant leak can be as simple as replacing a valve core or tightening a loose fitting or as complex as replacing the evaporator coil or copper line set. To ensure that the issue is fixed correctly, we recommend that you contact an HVAC professional. Swan HVAC experts are available seven days a week to handle all of your HVAC repair needs. Call today for more information.

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