Does your air conditioner not work properly? Does it no longer cool when you turn it on? Are you smelling chemicals coming from the vents of your air conditioner? Is your energy cost increasing? If you answer, yes, there probably is a freon leak in your home.
Is a freon leak in your home dangerous? Yes, it is extremely dangerous because it can cause organ damage and even death!
Before anything else, it is important to understand that most people interchangeably use the word Freon and refrigerant. Freon is a refrigerant brand while a refrigerant is a component of an air conditioning system.
In this article:
- What is AC Refrigerant?
- Role of Freon in your House
- Why AC Refrigerant Leaks are Dangerous?
- Freon Leak Symptoms
- Causes of Freon Leak
- Where are Freon Leaks Found?
- What does Leaking Freon Smell Like?
- How to Detect a Freon Leak
- What to do if you Suspect an AC Refrigerant Leak
- Freon Leak Repair
- How much does a Freon Leak Cost to Fix?
- How to prevent AC freon leaks
Related: Do vent filters work?
What is AC Refrigerant?
The air conditioning in your home keeps you comfortable during the hot summer days. The refrigerant is an essential component of your air conditioning system. It is responsible for producing the cool air that circulates around your room.
A refrigerant is a chemical compound, usually in fluid form, utilized to cool a room in a refrigeration cycle. This substance can quickly and effectively phase change (solid, liquid, and gas). Refrigerants come with unique properties that allow them to replace heat in a room to cooler temperatures. This is how your air conditioner works.
Your air conditioner is composed of three parts: the compressor, condenser, and evaporator. The refrigerant has an important role in all these parts.
The refrigerant starts as a highly-pressurized gas in the compressor absorbing heat in the room. It transforms into liquid and with the help of a blower motor carries away heat from the room to the condenser. The refrigerant then goes back to the evaporator and transforms again to gas.
The process whereby the refrigerant passes through the compressor, condenser, and evaporator allows the dropping of temperature in a room. It also cools the coils and with the aid of a fan, blows cool air to your room.
Refrigerants are crucial to the proper functioning of air conditioners, refrigerators, and all freezing equipment. Albeit, its importance, refrigerants are one of the most overlooked components in air conditioning units. Freon is an R-22 refrigerant.
Role of Freon in your House
Every air conditioner should have a refrigerant (coolant) to create cool air. Most air conditioners manufactured before 2003 use freon as a cooling agent. Freon is a colorless gas that creates cool air emitted by your air conditioner.
When the freon is at its proper level, it allows your air conditioner to:
- Eliminates indoor heat from your AC
- Releases cool air to the room
- Allows your AC to run efficiently
In short, freon will make your room cool when it is hot outside.
Your AC should never run out of freon because it will never be consumed as a car would consume gasoline. Freon gets recirculated so it gets to be reused. There should not never be an instance when it gets depleted and will need a refill. That is of course if your air conditioning is running effectively.
Only a freon leak will lower the freon level of your air conditioner, and thus necessitate a refill.
Why AC Refrigerant Leaks are Dangerous?
The refrigerant of your air conditioning system is constantly recycled to create cool air in a room. A refrigerant leak seldom occurs, but when it does, it can cause refrigerant poisoning.
Refrigerant poisoning occurs when a person consumes or inhales chemicals from your air conditioner, refrigerator, or any cooling appliances.
Refrigerant leaks are dangerous and a health hazard because it contains toxic substances that can affect the air quality in a room, and thus target your respiratory system. While it is an odorless and tasteless chemical, inhaling refrigerants can negatively affect the supply of oxygen to your lungs and cells.
Refrigerant poisoning is a critical condition that can lead to headaches, vomiting, nausea, difficulty in breathing, coughing, as well as eye and skin irritation. Even a small amount of exposure to refrigerants can cause these symptoms. It can also cause organ damage and sudden death.
Refrigerant leaks can also make your home less comfortable, increase your energy cost, and deplete the ozone layer in the environment.
Keeping your family safe means learning the signs and symptoms of a refrigerant leak and knowing what to do about it. No refrigerant should be allowed to enter the airflow inside your home.
Freon Leak Symptoms
A freon leak is one of the many reasons your air conditioner is not working properly. A leak reduces the level of freon in your AC. Without the right amount of freon, your air conditioner will not cool your home or room as it should.
A freon leak can cause many performance and efficiency issues in your air conditioning system. Not to mention the harmful effects a freon leak can cause to you and your family’s health.
Here are the symptoms you need to watch out for to know your air conditioner is having a freon leak.
Reduced Cooling Power
A freon leak will deplete the freon levels of your AC. This will lead to your AC taking a long time to cool your room or home. When this happens, there is a tendency for you to adjust the thermostat.
No matter how much you adjust the thermostat setting it may still be hot in your home. This is so because the freon continues to leak into the hole or crack in its compartment. Conversely, it may also take longer for your air conditioner to cool down your home.
Blowing Warm Air
A freon leak may cause your air conditioner to blow warm, instead of cool air. Check the air coming out of your vents (registers). When your AC is low on freon, the air coming out of the vents may not be as cold as it should be.
Frozen coils in the evaporator is a clear indication of a freon leak. The evaporator coils will not freeze when they are supplied with adequate levels of freon. The frozen condensation can melt and drip to the floor.
It is best to regularly check the evaporator coil of your AC system. The sooner you check for freon leak the better it will be to protect the health of your family and your AC, too.
Hissing Sound from your Indoor Unit
A freon leak is one of the causes a hissing or bubbling sound is coming from your indoor unit. Your AC should be quiet inside your home. If your AC is making a sound, there may be a leak on one of the components where the freon is escaping.
Sudden Increase in Electric Bill
Low levels of freon will make your electric bill higher than normal. This is so because your AC will be working double-time to cool your home, often without much luck. There is also a tendency for you to dial down the thermostat setting to get much cooler air. Low levels of freon mean a longer time for your AC to reach your set temperature. This, too, will increase your electric bill.
Causes of Freon Leak
There are many reasons for a freon leak.
Wear and Tear
This is one of the major reasons for the freon leak. The rubber seals located on the service valve surrounding the valve steam can wear out and cause freon to leak. The outside system and assembly joints can rust over time and likewise cause freon to leak.
Weakened Connections and Joints
Over time, joints and connections in your AC will thin out and will cause freon to leak.
Your air conditioning system comes with metal components which can corrode over time. Corrosion can cause these metal components to weaken and make the freon leak.
There are factory defects that can only be detected when the AC is installed. Later in time, these defects can cause freon to leak. Some factory defects may include missing or damaged parts as well as improper handling of the unit in the factory
An improper installation such as incorrectly fitting of components that allows coolant gas to escape can cause freon leak.
Where are Freon Leaks Found?
Freon leaks are typically found in these areas in your AC.
Condenser coils have U-bends held together by a tubular metal. When your AC is running the tubular metal rubs against the copper tubes. This will also cause holes where the freon can leak.
Capillary tubes are found in the evaporator coil. These small tubes tend to vibrate when your AC is running. The vibration can cause the tubes to rub against each other or together. In the long run, there will be holes in the capillary tubes that will cause freon to leak.
Refrigerant Line Sets
It is normal for refrigerant line sets to leak at flare connections. The line sets, however, can also leak when hit by a weed eater, lawnmower, or tripped over. This will cause the line sets to leak and freon leaks to occur, too.
What does Leaking Freon Smell Like?
Freon travels and recycles through closed copper coils. When these coils crack, freon will leak. Most people say freon has a sweet smell. However, since no two people smell things similarly, freon smell, other than sweet, can smell like:
- Cat urine
- Rotten eggs
Some people also say that leaking freon can have a smell similar to used motor oil.
How to Detect a Freon Leak
As mentioned, freon leak can not only make your AC function improperly, it can also severely damage your health and that of your family. Detecting a freon leak can help you find the best solutions at the earliest possible time.
Here are some freon leak detection methods:
Electronic Detection Devices
You can use a handheld electronic detection device to detect freon leaks. These electronic devices are equipped with freon sensors that will detect the presence of excess gas in your home. The concentration or exact location of the freon leak will be displayed on the screen of the device.
Bubble Leak Method
The bubble leak method, or more commonly known as the soap bubble solution detects freon leaks through a high-pressure inert gas. Gas is blown in the AC components and hose pipes. Pressure bubbles will come out from the location of the freon leak. This method is used when the leak is huge and visible with the naked eyes.
This method uses fluorescent dyes with the coolant. Your AC will be made to run. The dye will settle on spots where there is a freon leak. The dyes can be removed by cleaning solutions after the detection process.
A portable burner is the easiest way to detect freon leaks. A low flame burner will not harm the components of your AC. Set the portable burner to low fire. The presence of freon leaks will cause the flame to immediately change from blue to bluish-green or green. This is a slow and unrealizable method, though.
What to do if you Suspect an AC Refrigerant Leak
Having an AC professional add refrigerant to your AC system is not the proper solution to a refrigerant leak. A refrigerant refill may be cheaper than repairs but it will not solve the issue.
When you suspect a refrigerant leak, immediately call an AC professional. He should be able to pinpoint the exact location of the leak and make the necessary repairs. Do not delay repairs as you may be up to a more costly repair bill or may have to replace your entire AC unit.
Freon Leak Repair
Small freon leaks can be resolved through the use of a freon leak repair kit. These kits are readily available at home depot stores. These kits typically include a valve, hose, and sealant.
Larger freon leaks will need the expertise of an AC professional. The damaged component can be soldered to be as good as new. There are instances when condenser, evaporator coils, or refrigerant coils will need to be replaced to repair freon leaks.
How much does a Freon Leak Cost to Fix?
The cost to fix a freon leak depends on the size and location of the leak. Smaller leaks can be repaired and will cost less. Larger leaks will entail the replacement of some of the components of the AC and will be costlier.
How to prevent AC freon leaks
Regular maintenance and inspection of your AC unit by an AC professional is the best way to prevent freon leaks.
Your AC professional should be able to identify early signs of freon leak and deal with it accordingly to prevent a larger leak. Regular inspection by an AC professional will ensure the components of your AC are in top shape to prevent any freon leak.
Freon leaks make your room or home uncomfortable. These leaks can also increase your electricity bill. More importantly, freon leaks can harm and damage your health as well as that of your family.