Causes of AC Refrigerant Leaks

Many homeowners are often misinformed about the specific nature of refrigerant leaks in their air conditioning system.  This often leads to the homeowner wasting money on multiple service calls to recharge a leaking system.

First, let’s take a deeper look at ways you can identify a refrigerant leak from our experience as Winnipeg air conditioner repair technicians and what causes the leak in the first place. Then we will touch on the importance of proper installation and service, plus provide guidance on the “repair versus replacement” discussion you will inevitably have in the case your system develops a refrigerant leak.

Signs of refrigerant leakage:

One of the common signs of low refrigerant is a frozen line or coil. This is not always a result of low refrigerant, but the accumulation of ice does mean your system is not working properly. The problem will not go away if you simply let the lines thaw and re-start your unit. Doing so could damage your system or lead to water leaking into your home from ice repeatedly melting inside your unit.

Other signs include:

  • The unit blowing warm air or taking an unusual amount of time to cool your home.
  • High utility bills.
  • Higher than usual run-time.
  • An uncharacteristic hissing noise coming from one of the system’s components.
  • Any of these conditions may indicate a refrigerant leak and needs to be checked out by a qualified technician.

Main causes of refrigerant leaks:

  • improper installation
  • vibrations
  • the weakening of the copper lines and joints over a long period of time
  • leaking seals at the charging ports
  • corrosion

We cannot stress the importance of your unit being properly installed by a licensed contractor enough. If refrigerant lines are improperly installed or not secured, the constant vibration caused by the flow of refrigerant and the running of your system’s components, will eventually wear holes in the copper lines.

All systems are prone to leakage over long periods of time due to the wear and tear from normal usage. However, failure to have your unit professionally installed and maintained can lead to costly repairs and shorten the life of the system.

One of the most notable causes of refrigerant leaks, corrosion, can be reduced by preventive maintenance. The air inside your house contains many pollutants released by various chemical products used inside most homes. Many of these pollutants are corrosive and constantly pass through your central heating and air system as your home’s air is recirculated.

Debris collects on your system’s coils and can absorb the corrosive pollutants in your home’s air. This can lead to formicary corrosion, a process that often causes multiple pinholes in the copper lines of your air conditioners evaporator coil. The best way to combat this common type of corrosion is the proper maintenance of your system’s coils.

Repair vs. Replacement/Conclusion:

Now that you know what causes refrigerant leaks and how to spot them, we can talk about the proper steps to take when a leak occurs. Anytime your air conditioner system displays symptoms of low refrigerant, or is not operating properly, it is important to discontinue using the system and consult a qualified technician. Continuing to use a malfunctioning system may end up costing you thousands of dollars for what might be a minor repair.

Air conditioning systems are a closed system. This means the system never loses or “uses” refrigerant and was designed to operate using the same amount of refrigerant it was initially charged with. If your system is needing to be recharged on a regular basis it is not functioning properly. Having a leaking system constantly recharged can reduce the life of your unit or cause damage to the system as it is not able to run as designed.

Be especially wary of unqualified technicians offering to recharge your unit. The refrigerant they charge into the system will often leak back out in a short amount of time and you will simply lose the money you paid them to “fix” your air conditioner. When an air conditioning system is leaking refrigerant, it is a good idea to have the leak repaired before any more refrigerant is added.

The age and overall condition of your unit are the major factors in deciding whether to repair or replace a unit that is leaking refrigerant. It is very important to have a qualified technician inspect the unit to ensure you do not sink money into expensive air conditioning repairs.

Steve DeVries is a “Red Seal” refrigeration technician with over 20 years of experience in the HVAC industry. He has been a certified Lennox Premier technician since 2006. Steve is also a Master gas-fitter licensed by the province of Manitoba. Along with his Red Seal Provincial accreditation he also holds an electrical license. Born and raised in Winnipeg Manitoba, Steve has a very good understanding of a diverse climate and the affects it has on our construction. Well versed in duct design, fabrication, ventilation, and air quality, Steve understands all the variables to take into consideration for our region as well as the science to achieve desired comfort, which is so much more than just temperature.