If you’re looking for information on how to check for Freon leak in home AC, then this guide is exactly what you need. A Freon leak is something that no homeowner wants to deal with. While there are several ways of dealing with these leaks, most options are costly.
Freon is the most popular brand of refrigerant used for AC systems. The name is used interchangeably with refrigerant. However, all refrigerants can be expensive.
Unfortunately, leaks are inevitable. The copper tubing and other components responsible for handling the refrigerant may eventually wear down and the coils will eventually crack.
Here are some tips on how to check for Freon leak in home AC system and information on what to do when you detect a leak.
Signs That Your AC System Has a Leak
If you are worried about the performance of your home air conditioner, you should regularly inspect the appliance for signs of wear and leaks.
When a refrigerant leak occurs, you are most likely to notice a change in the performance of your air conditioning unit. While you may not physically detect the leak, you may notice that it takes longer for your AC system to cool your home. You may also notice a lack of cool air coming from the vents after lowering the temperature.
Another sign of a leak is the formation of ice crystals on the condenser coils. These coils are typically located outside the home in the condenser unit.
A leak can also cause a hissing or gurgling sound. While these sounds may be caused by other problems within your AC system, a leak is the most likely cause. A small crack or leak may cause a hissing sound as the liquid refrigerant is converted into gas. A gurgling sound may indicate that your air conditioner has a larger leak.
It is also possible for a leak to result in higher energy bills. A slow leak limits the efficiency of your AC system. You may lower the thermostat more than usual to stay cool, requiring the AC system to work harder and use more electricity.
Inspecting Your AC System for a Leak
After reviewing the signs of a leak, you may want to inspect your AC system to physically verify the presence of a leak. When checking your air conditioner, it helps to know the areas where a leak is most likely to occur. The areas of your AC unit that you should inspect for leaks include the following:
- Copper tubing
- Shipping valves
- Weld joints
- Valve cores
These components are all connected as part of the system that transfers the refrigerant from the evaporator coil to the condenser coil in a constant cycle.
To inspect these parts, you may need to remove the panels on your air conditioner system. This may include checking both the indoor and outdoor components of your AC unit. Before removing any access panels or any other parts, you should turn off the air conditioner.
Start your inspection with the outdoor condenser unit. If you have a leak, the condenser coil may have ice on it. This will be visually noticeable without removing the panel or vent cover.
When inspecting the condenser coil and the connected components for a leak, look for any signs of dark oily dust or corrosion on the pipes. If fresh liquid is present, you likely have a leak.
After checking the outdoor condenser unit, you can visually check the main air conditioner unit inside your house. Look for the same signs, including ice or oil on or around the evaporator coil. Also check the refrigerant line that runs from the indoor unit to the outdoor condenser.
Only inspect parts that you can reach without removing additional components. Unless you are a certified technician, you should limit your inspection to the accessible areas of your air conditioner system.
If you detect dirty, oily areas on any of these parts, you may have a leak. There are two methods for verifying a leak without contacting a professional. You can either use the soap bubble test or add fluorescent dye to the refrigerant.
Detecting Leaks with Soap Bubbles
The soap bubble test works best when using a small bottle of bubbles for kids. Pour a small amount of the liquid on top of the areas where you suspect a leak.
If there is a leak present, the release of air or liquid should create bubbles from the solution that you poured on to the leak. However, this test may not help detect smaller leaks.
It is also difficult to perform this test outdoors, especially on windy days. You may have trouble detecting any bubbles forming on or around the condenser coil and other outdoor components.
Adding Fluorescent Dye to the Refrigerant
Another detection method requires you to add a small amount of fluorescent dye to the refrigerant line. Before adding the dye, make sure that you turn off your air conditioner.
The dye can be detected using a UV light or a blacklight. When attempting to detect a leak outdoors, you may need to wait until evening. When attempting to detect a leak indoors, turn off the lights.
The fluorescent dye should glow when exposed to the UV light, allowing you to detect the presence of a leak. You can even purchase fluorescent dyes designed specifically for detecting refrigerant leaks.
Professional Leak Detection Methods
Contacting a professional HVAC repair technician is the most accurate way to detect a refrigerant leak. Using professional equipment, they are more likely to find the source of the leak and offer suggestions for repairing or replacing damaged parts.
The two main tools used by professionals include a corona suppression detector and a heated diode detector. Both detectors use electricity to help find leaks. Typically, when you schedule the annual servicing of your AC system, the technician will use one of these methods to check for leaks.
The Most Common Causes of Freon Leaks
Air conditioners are not designed to allow refrigerant to leak. Refrigerant does not get used up during the cooling process. It is passed through a series of coils and tubes where it absorbs heat before being converted into a gas and then converted back into a liquid to repeat the process.
If your AC system is low on refrigerant, you likely have a leak. The leak may appear anywhere along the path that Freon travels during the cooling cycle. However, the most common cause of a refrigerant leak is a damaged coil.
The evaporator and condenser coils are typically made of copper tubing. Over time, copper corrodes and weakens. These coils also deal with a lot of pressure, as the expansion valve pressurizes the refrigerant to convert it to gas after it passes through the evaporator coil.
The most common cause of leaks is corrosion and natural wear and tear. The seals connecting the tubing and valves may also eventually wear out. These issues almost always lead to a leak at some point during the life of your air conditioner unit.
Should You Refill the Lost Refrigerant?
If you have a refrigerant leak, refilling the refrigerant may be an option to help restore the cooling ability of your AC unit. However, adding more refrigerant will not solve the leak.
There are pros and cons to refilling refrigerant after detecting a leak. The primary benefit is the initial cost of these refills. You can purchase Freon for about $8 to $100 per pound, depending on whether you need R-22 or R-410A refrigerant and whether you hire a technician to complete the refill.
The average residential air conditioner uses between 5 and 7 pounds of refrigerant. Spending the money on a refill is likely to be cheaper than repairing the leak or replacing a damaged coil. In fact, most HVAC technicians will not offer to repair a damaged coil.
The copper tubing used to create the evaporator and condenser coils slowly corrodes over time. The tubing corrodes from within, making it impossible to detect weakened areas that are prone to cracking. By repairing one crack, the technician may increase the risk of another crack forming elsewhere in the coil.
The entire process is also time-consuming, increasing the cost of the repairs. There is also no guarantee that the repairs will work.
If the leak is small enough, the technician may recommend that you refill the refrigerant as needed. With a small leak, you may only need to add refrigerant every two to three years.
Last Thoughts on Checking for AC Leaks
The bottom line is that these leaks are considered inevitable. Your air conditioner system is designed to last for at least a decade. As it approaches the end of its service life or surpasses the typical lifespan of an AC unit, there is a good chance that you may notice a leak.
When a leak occurs, your main options are to repair the leak, replace the damaged parts, or refill the refrigerant.
If you have an older air conditioning system that you are not ready to replace, the refrigerant refills may allow you to hold off on replacing your unit for a few more years. However, if the AC system is brand new, repairing the leak or replacing a damaged coil may offer the most cost-effective option over the life of your air conditioner.