Why Shouldn't You Delay Repairing A Refrigerant Leak?

Refrigerant leaks are relatively common problems in every type of air conditioning and refrigeration system, from automotive climate control to residential split-unit central air conditioners. Refrigerant leaks can develop due to poor installation or physical damage to parts of the line set. Still, long-term corrosion is more typical, making leaks more common on older systems.

This corrosion creates tiny, nearly invisible holes in the refrigerant lines, allowing small amounts of refrigerant to escape. Since the amount of refrigerant lost is often slight, the initial symptoms may seem minor. Unfortunately, these leaks are more urgent than they seem at first glance.

What Happens When You Lose Refrigerant?

Your air conditioner relies on a concept known as the refrigerant cycle. If there are no leaks in your system, the refrigerant will continuously cycle from the outdoor condenser coils to the indoor evaporator coils. Along the way, the refrigerant will go through phase changes from a liquid to a vapor and back again, without any refrigerant being "used up."

The transition from liquid to vapor in the evaporator coil is particularly critical. As the warm air from your house passes over the evaporator coil, the coil transfers heat energy to the refrigerant. This process causes the refrigerant to boil, sending it back to the compressor as a vapor. Manufacturers calibrate their AC systems to produce a specific temperature at the evaporator coil.

Losing refrigerant causes the overall pressure in the system to drop, meaning that less refrigerant will enter the evaporator. While it may seem counterintuitive, this lower pressure will result in lower temperatures at the evaporator coil. In other words, losing refrigerant will cause your system to run colder.

Why Do Refrigerant Leaks Require Urgent Attention?

The early symptoms of a refrigerant leak may not initially cause any alarm. The earliest warning sign is often unusually cold air from your vents. As the problem worsens, ice will begin to form on the evaporator coil due to the combination of low temperatures and condensate. Since the frozen condensate cannot drain from the evaporator, you may notice more damp, humid air.

Even if you're not bothered by reduced efficiency and increased humidity, these symptoms are far from harmless. The ice will eventually fully encase the evaporator, insulating it and preventing heat transfer to the refrigerant. Once frozen, your system will no longer cool your home, and the refrigerant will no longer boil into a vapor.

A frozen evaporator coil usually won't cause significant damage to your system if you don't wait too long to address it. However, ignoring the issue can overwork the compressor by sending incompressible back to the condenser unit. The liquid refrigerant can also displace oil in the compressor's motor, removing lubrication, increasing wear, and eventually causing the motor to burn out.

Once you notice the symptoms of a refrigerant leak, the best option is to contact an HVAC technician as soon as possible. While a minor refrigerant leak may not justify an emergency call, you should promptly schedule a repair appointment. 

For more info, contact a local company like 72 DEGREES HVAC INC.