5 Important Reasons To Fix Your Air Conditioning Leak
Refrigerant (coolant) is the magical liquid that makes hot air cool. Okay, maybe it’s not magical but it has amazing properties. Unlike a heating system that heats up air and pushes it around, your air conditioning system actually extracts heat from the air and brings it back to you nice and cool. That seems pretty magical to me.
But how does it all work? Inside of your house, your AC unit holds an evaporator coil—and this is where the refrigerant evaporates, drawing out the heat out of the air. The cooled air is pushed through your home while the hot air is pushed outside. Seem easy enough, right? Making things even easier is the fact that refrigerant never burns off like gas in your car or oil in your heater. Rather, it recycles itself in your unit, over and over again, in a kind of closed system or loop.
The refrigerant used in air conditioning units is called Freon, and it has a bit of a sordid history since it’s harmful to the environment –so harmful that it won’t be produced in the US in the future and after 2020, it can only be sourced from recycled products. If your AC unit is working well, then no Freon hits the atmosphere and there’s no problem.
If your refrigerant is low then, well, we’ve got a problem. Perhaps the refrigerant is low because it wasn’t put in properly originally and has been running low for a while. That’s an easy enough to remedy—add more Freon and you’re good to go. But chances are, there’s a leak somewhere in the air conditioning system and that’s a problem that needs to be fixed.
And here’s why.
Your House Will Not Cool Down.
If your refrigerant isn’t at the proper level, no amount of working your air conditioning system is going to cool down your house. It may seem okay at first with more time on than off, but eventually, the AC will just not have the right balance of coolant to coil and it will not properly recycle the liquid. The change may seem subtle, and you may not notice much until that first really hot night when you can’t sleep because you hear the air conditioner running but are simmering in pool of your own sweat. Sorry friend, it’s not going to get any better until you address your coolant problem.
Your Electricity Bill Is Going To Be A Shocker
With an over-active air conditioning unit working hard inside and outside the house, your electricity bill is going to be a doozy. With low refrigerant, AC units run longer in their cooling cycle, trying to live up to the expectations of your thermostat. Put the thermostat up a few degrees? Sure, that might work for a moment, but eventually your AC unit won’t be able to cool enough to get the air temperature that low either. That means your unit will be running outdoors and indoors, daytime and night, using a ton of electricity and driving your cooling costs sky high.
Chemical Damage Is Real.
A leak in your AC unit is bad for all living things. CFCs (or chlorofluorocarbons) are released when coolant isn’t contained inside your unit. CFCs take chunks away from the ozone and increase the rate of global warming. Those same CFCs can cause Chronic Bronchitis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD—bad stuff) in humans and animals if inhaled. And if refrigerant touches your skin, it can cause major irritations and rashes. COPD is nothing to mess around with and holes in the ozone are bad for everyone. Fixing a leak in your air conditioning unit can keep other, more serious problems from ever starting.
Leaking Coolant Can Mean Water Damage
Unfortunately, if your refrigerant is low or leaky, it will lower the pressure overall in your air conditioning system. This can cause the evaporator coil to actually freeze (not it’s best look). When that icy condensation melts, water drip…drip…drips into your drip pan. Repeat that a few times and all of a sudden your drip pan is overflowing onto your floor between the boards, or between floors and ceilings or between drywall and brick or in other places that are uncomfortable to clean out and a pain to repair. And also: mold. Yuck.
A Compressor’s Life Is in the Balance
The compressor is the hardest working member of your AC team (don’t tell the thermostat) and needs your support. The less refrigerant in the system, the harder the compressor has to run in order to push cool air into the house and hot air out. And it’s also one expensive part to fix should it have to retire itself because of over-work—a compressor can cost up to $2000 to replace, not including labor. That’s no small fix.
More than anything, though, an AC unit is a helper in your home, a buddy that provides comfort and safety for you and your family (and your pets! Don’t forget about the pets!). It deserves a yearly check up and maintenance. It deserves clean filters to support it. And it certainly deserves to be fixed if a leak is suspected then detected.
So what’s next? What can you do when you realize you have to do something to fix your AC unit but are not sure what. First off, you need a professional to come over and look at the problem. The solution of adding more Freon and using a sealant might work—but not for the long term. It could actually be more harmful over time since in solves for a symptom but not the sickness and could still be a factor in compressor fatigue.
Longer term solutions may include something as simple as filter cleaning (you did check the filters already, right?) or as complete and complex as getting a new system. Your trusted HVAC pro can help you out with your decisions on investing in something new or simply replacing and repairing something that just needs a little light surgery.