Are Older Air Conditioners More Likely To Lose Refrigerant?

It's natural to assume that most appliances will become more expensive to maintain and repair as they age. Your home's air conditioning is no exception, but what failures are likely to occur as it enters its twilight years, and why are these problems so likely? While there are numerous issues aging air conditioners can face, refrigerant leaks are among the most common.

Understanding why your system is likely to develop leaks as it ages can help you spot these problems and fix them before they become too serious. Fortunately, while refrigerant leaks are serious, they're rarely a large enough issue to force an early replacement. Still, it's important to know the warning signs since a refrigerant leak can potentially damage your system's more costly and critical components.

Why Do Leaks Occur?

Aside from physical damage, the two most common causes of leaks in refrigerant lines are stress on brazed sections (joints) or corrosion. A well-brazed refrigerant line generally shouldn't leak, but poor installation techniques or unusually severe vibrations can sometimes cause these areas to weaken and develop small leaks.

Corrosion is a potentially more serious problem that can occur due to internal or external factors. Corrosion is most common on copper refrigerant line sets since copper can react with chemicals found in a typical household. Given enough time, these reactions can create small pinhole leaks or even widespread corrosion.

Are Leaks More Common on Older Systems?

Putting aside the issues that a poor installation can create, leaks are generally much more common on older air conditioning systems. The longer a system remains in use, the more time chemicals in the environment will have to react with the copper plumbing. These reactions may take many years to cause problems, so it can sometimes seem like your system is suddenly developing many leaks all at once.

Additionally, older systems spend more time exposed to external elements. These elements can be a real problem in coastal areas, where saltwater can cause rapid corrosion. Since some systems rely on aluminum, which is less corrosion-resistant than copper, there's a greater likelihood of these air conditioners developing leaks as they age.

What Should You Do If Your System Begins Developing Leaks?

Refrigerant leaks will cause a pressure drop at the evaporator, lowering temperatures near the coil and eventually causing the coil to freeze. A frozen coil is more than just an inconvenience, however. Once the coil freezes, there's a high likelihood of liquid refrigerant returning to the compressor and causing damage. This situation can cause extremely expensive damage.

It's best to address refrigerant leaks immediately to avoid wildly expensive repairs or a costly replacement. If you have an older system, it's a good idea to have an experienced HVAC technician check your whole system once leaks develop. A thorough diagnosis will help you find and repair all leaks, helping to extend the life of your system by many years.

For more information on HVAC repair, contact a professional near you.