Do Small Leaks In Your Air Conditioning System Matter?

Air conditioning systems use specialized chemicals known as "refrigerants" to transport heat energy from one place to another. Refrigerants aren't a single chemical but a class of many different chemicals. The type of refrigerant used in your system will vary by age, but one thing is always true: your system should never use up or lose refrigerant.

All air conditioning systems rely on precise refrigerant pressure at the evaporator coil to produce the intended cooling effect. Too little pressure and the evaporator will become too cold, eventually freezing and damaging your entire system. Leaks are the most common reason a system may lose refrigerant pressure, but are slow leaks a major issue?

Understanding and Defining Refrigerant Leaks

Refrigerant leaks should be relatively simple to understand, but there's a surprisingly large amount of nuance involved in detecting and locating them. Unlike the fluids in your car, there's no simple way to check the amount of refrigerant in your system. Instead, a technician must use a set of manifold gauges to measure the system pressure. This strategy provides some info, but it's not a slam-dunk diagnosis.

Part of the issue is that refrigerant pressure depends on the temperature, so comparing your refrigerant level to a known value isn't always straightforward. It can also be challenging to distinguish between a leak and a restriction in the system. Technicians must typically measure suction pressure along with superheating and subcooling values to rule out other problems.

With small leaks, the problem can be even more challenging to find. The system may lose refrigerant for weeks, months, or longer before the performance starts to degrade. In these cases, is it necessary to spend the time and money finding and repairing the leak, or is it sufficient to add more refrigerant and continue using the system?

Why You Can't Ignore Small Refrigerant Leaks

Unfortunately, adding more refrigerant to your air conditioning system is not a good long-term solution, and it's rarely even an effective bandaid. While you may temporarily restore your system's cooling power, you risk causing significantly more damage over the long run. In a worst-case scenario, you can even damage your system's compressor.

Low refrigerant levels inevitably lead to cold temperatures at the evaporator. These cold temperatures result in ice forming on the coils, preventing the refrigerant from absorbing more heat. This situation causes your AC to "freeze" and stop working temporarily but, more importantly, it prevents the refrigerant from changing to a vapor. Liquid refrigerant that returns to the compressor may damage it.

Since there's no easy way to check your refrigerant level and no way of knowing when you may be putting your compressor at risk, even small refrigerant leaks can damage your system. Once you know you're losing your refrigerant from your air conditioning system, it's crucial to have a skilled HVAC technician locate and address the problem as soon as possible.

For more information, contact a local company, like Brooks Heating & Air Conditioning.