What causes Freon leaks in air conditioners? Freon leaks in your air conditioner can be a huge issue. Mostly because they will run up your energy bills, drop comfort levels in the home, and force you to invest in potentially expensive repairs. Freon leaks tend to start small, slowly allowing Freon to escape your system, and for that reason, they aren’t always immediately noticeable. The hope, however, is that you can learn of the leak before your system is completely void of refrigerant, so you can then call a technician.
So, what causes these leaks? There are just a handful of different things that tend to cause leaks in your air conditioning system. For the most part, your copper lines are protected or hidden underneath the home, but there are forces that come into play. The following takes a look at some of the different causes of Freon leaks in an air conditioning system, as well as the different ways in which you can recognize a leak and what you can do about it.
The System’s Age
The quality of most things will suffer as time goes on, and the performance, efficiency, and reliability of your air conditioning system are all likely to take a dive as your system ages. This is especially the case for systems that have been poorly taken care of or repeatedly exposed to too much moisture, formaldehyde, and other substances that can accelerate deterioration. Age and general wear and tear are also one cause of Freon leaks.
There are a number of valves, rubber seals, and assembly joints that can weaken over time, some of which might snap, crack, or fall off completely if agitated too aggressively. Dampness can also impact the qualities of these areas. Your outdoor unit is often exposed to rain. Your basement or crawlspace area will often be the dampest area of your home, and it is likely the place through which your Freon lines run. Constant exposure to this kind of moisture can also weaken certain areas and ultimately result in leakage.
Additionally, Freon circulates inside of your copper lines at a high pressure, which over time can weaken your copper lines from the inside out. While this isn’t the biggest concern, this can make it easier for other forces to penetrate the copper.
Your HVAC system vibrates when it kicks on and while it’s running, and over time, this can wear off weak valves and seals. Vibrations can be even more aggressive if your system has been unevenly placed, been put under more stress due to age, or been loosened in certain spots for any number of reasons. If the vibrations are persistent and strong enough to loosen or weaken certain spots, Freon leaks are definitely possible.
Formic acid is a naturally forming acid that can eat through your copper Freon tubes. This cause of leaks can be the most frustrating, as it can lead to multiple leaks in multiple spots, none of which will be apparent immediately.
Formic acid comes from formaldehyde, which exists in a number of home building products and eventually finds itself clinging to your air conditioning system. Formaldehyde buildup on your copper lines leads to formic acid, which wears away the copper to create pinholes in the tubing in a process called “formicary corrosion.” While this process is usually very gradual (typically taking years to penetrate the copper), it can definitely lead to Freon leaks.
If you order a brand-new system, you expect no issues, but occasionally, air conditioning systems arrive with issues of varying types – punctured copper lines, missing valves or seals. As rare as these occurrences may be, they do happen, and there is typically a manufacturer’s warranty in place that will protect you. The problem is that your installers may not catch the issues upon installation, in which case, you could experience a leak sooner than you think.
This doesn’t occur often enough to be concerned, but there are things that manufacturers do intentionally that can help create conditions for a leak. For example, some manufacturers will make their copper lines thinner. They do this to increase the efficiency of the system, but when copper lines are thinner, they are also weaker. They can be damaged more easily, eroded more quickly, and corroded in a shorter amount of time.
Exposure to Contaminants
When your system gets neglected, the coil can get coated in grime, mold, and other pollutants that can eventually weaken components carrying Freon. This is why it’s important to always have your system serviced and even cleaned.
Specific Areas Where Leaks Occur
The place in which your leaks occur can depend on the type of system you have, but in general, there are only so many places where leaks can happen. The following are some specific areas where you might find leaks in your air conditioning systems.
- Schrader Valve: The Schrader valve is similar to the valves where you air up car or bicycle tires, and they are located in the area where your copper line sets connect to your air conditioning units. When these valves break, get stuck, or aren’t sealed properly, they can lead to a Freon leak.
- Heat Pump Accumulators: Accumulators are components of a heat pump system, and they are made from steel, which means they can rust over time and ultimately leak as a result.
- Capillary Tubes: Capillary tubes run through your evaporator coil, and these are smaller copper lines that sometimes rub against each other or against other pieces of metal as a result of vibration. Most of these lines are hidden, so leaks in these areas can be extremely difficult to deal with.
- Flare Connections: Flare fittings are a type of compression fitting, and these connections can leak if not properly secured or fitted.
- Outdoor Coil: While uncommon, leaks can occur in the outdoor unit as well. Most of the time this will happen where the copper bends at the end of the coil.
- The Filter Dryer: The filter dryer is a component that is attached to your copper lines, and its purpose is to absorb small amounts of moisture and filter debris. However, it has an outer shell made of steel that can rust, and there are seals at either end that can fail.
- The Line Set: The line set is the long tube of copper that runs from your indoor unit to your outdoor unit, and leaks can occur anywhere on this line. These lines can be punctured, pierced, damaged, corroded, and disconnected for any number of reasons.
Signs That Your Air Conditioning Is Leaking
Unless the leak is large enough to be visible or heard, you won’t notice the leak itself. However, you will notice that your system is underperforming or not working at all, and when this happens, you would typically call an HVAC technician, who will tell you whether or not you have a leak. A Freon leak means your system is losing Freon, and when this happens, you might experience all of the following things.
- Low airflow
- No cold air
- Ice buildup on copper lines and coils
- High energy bills
- Lengthy cooldown times
When the air coming out of your vents isn’t cold, this often means that your system is low on Freon, which could mean that you have a leak somewhere. The warmer your air is, the longer your home will take to cool down, and if your system is leaking, your home eventually won’t be able to cool down at all.
When your system can’t adequately cool your home as a result of low Freon, that means it’s working harder and using more energy, and if left unchecked, this will reflect on your energy bills. Lastly, ice can build up on your copper lines and your coils. When your system is low on Freon, condensation builds up and ultimately freezes.
How Can You Fix Leaks?
The best way to get a leak fixed is to contact an HVAC technician, and it’s best to do so as soon as you notice a problem with your system. The quicker your technicians get out to your home, the quicker they can discover the leaks and take the necessary course of action. Unfortunately, when there are Freon leaks in your air conditioning system, there are really only two things that you can do.
- Your technicians can find and repair the leaks. These days, HVAC technicians use advanced equipment that makes locating leaks far less time consuming and far more affordable than it was previously. When leaks can be patched, it will be easier for everybody.
- You can also replace your coil or line set. If the leaks exist in the coil, they may not be patchable, and if they exist on the line set, but are too large or numerous, it may be better to replace the line set entirely.
Your HVAC technician will be well equipped to assess damages, evaluate the condition of your system, and formulate a strategy that is as simple and as cost effective as p