Does My Air Conditioner Need More Refrigerant?

With summer in full swing, many homeowners are wondering whether they need to recharge or refill their refrigerant.

We are often asked, “Why does my AC need more refrigerant?” and the answer is simple—there is a leak somewhere in the refrigerant line. If you are low on refrigerant, make sure your technician finds and fixes the leak instead of just “topping it off.”

What is Refrigerant (aka Coolant)?

In order to know if you need more refrigerant, it’s a good idea to know how the refrigeration process works and why you might need to recharge refrigerant. Basically, refrigerant is a fluid that is used to transfer heat from one area to another.

The chemical circulates throughout the air conditioning system, helping it pull heat out of your home and releasing it outdoors. Refrigerant levels need to stay at a fixed amount in your system; otherwise, the process simply can’t work.

What Type of Refrigerant Does My Air Conditioner Use?

The type of refrigerant you can use will depend on the age, make and model of your unit. If you have an air conditioner that was manufactured before 2010, it probably uses HCFC-22 (R-22) refrigerant.

While R-22 refrigerant is still used to service existing air conditioners, starting on January 1, 2010, the EPA has prohibited the manufacture and installation of any new R-22 appliances. A common ozone-friendly refrigerant alternative is R-410A (aka 410A, Forane®, Puron®).

The refrigerant used in your air conditioner is usually listed on the nameplate on the outdoor condenser.

Since refrigerant operates on a closed loop, you should never run low. If your air conditioner is blowing warm air, you may need more refrigerant, but you’ll need to repair the leak first.

Why Do I Need to Hire a Professional to Recharge Refrigerant?

Simply put, refrigerant is extremely dangerous and there are many laws governing its use. The potential risks of handling refrigerant include toxicity, flammability, asphyxiation, blindness, and other health and physical hazards (EPA).

Are There Laws Against Handling Refrigerant?

Refrigerant must be handled by a professional. There are stringent requirements for repairing refrigerant leaks, disposing of old refrigerant, and adding new refrigerant.

Not only is handling refrigerants dangerous, but it is also against the law if you are not certified to do so!

Here are the basics on EPA’s regulatory requirements regarding refrigerant:

  • Refrigerant: Must be approved by EPA and cannot be intentionally released (vented) to the environment.*
  • Servicing: When payment of any kind is involved (including non-monetary), any person working on an MVAC system must be certified under section 609 of the CAA and they must use approved refrigerant handling equipment.
  • Reusing Refrigerant: Refrigerant must be properly recycled or reclaimed before it can be reused, even if it is being returned to the vehicle from which it was removed.

Research reputable technicians to locate and repair your refrigerant leak, and then add more refrigerant.

Do I Need More Refrigerant?

Since refrigerant operates on a closed loop, you should never just add refrigerant without first addressing the leak that caused the problem in the first place. If your HVAC system was properly installed and regularly maintained, there shouldn’t be any major leaks. But leaks do happen.

Here are some signs you may have a refrigerant leak:

  • Air conditioner is blowing warm or hot air
  • House isn’t cooling or takes a long time to cool
  • Ice build-up on evaporator coil
  • High electric bills
  • Hissing or bubbling noise near refrigerant lines

What Should I Do?

If you suspect a refrigerant leak, do not even think about adding more refrigerant yourself. Instead, follow the steps below:

  1. Turn your air conditioner off (flip the thermostat switch from “COOL” to “OFF”)
  2. Turn the thermostat fan setting “ON” for 2-4 hours to help thaw any frozen components.
  3. Contact a reputable HVAC technician in your area. Refrigerant must be handled by the professionals.

Make sure your HVAC contractor locates and repairs the leak first before adding refrigerant. Otherwise, you’ll be polluting the environment and needing another refrigerant recharge very soon!

Furthermore, air conditioners rely on a specific type of refrigerant. Mixing refrigerants or adding the wrong type can destroy your unit and possibly create a major safety hazard in the process.

Licensed HVAC technicians are trained in the safe use of refrigerants and can handle the equipment and chemicals safely without running any sort of risk. They will also be able to repair the leak that led to the low refrigerant in the first place, which is really the most important thing.

When your refrigerant runs low, you know who to call. If you have any questions about the R-22 refrigerant phaseout, recharging refrigerant, repairing refrigerant leaks, or anything else, don’t hesitate to Ask a Champion!

Want to learn more about air-conditioning?

Service Champions is known for trustworthy, on-time heating and air conditioning service throughout the East Bay, South Bay, and Sacramento areas.

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