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Warning Signs Your AC Is Leaking Refrigerant

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Last year we wrote about the role refrigerant plays in your air conditioning system: it’s not an energy source for an AC but rather how an AC removes heat from the air to cool it down. In that post, we briefly talked about why both too much and too little refrigerant is major trouble for an air conditioner.

Today we’re going to get into details about having too little refrigerant, which is a common cause for air conditioning repair in West Chester, PA. The refrigerant lines in an air conditioner can develop leaks due to corrosion, and this problem can start affecting an AC system after only five years in service—it’s not just an “old air conditioner” problem!

Refrigerant leaks need repairs as soon as possible, since a low refrigerant charge puts the entire system in jeopardy. But refrigerant leaks aren’t often obvious at first, so we’ve put together a list of warning signs that will tell you it’s time to call us to check out the AC.

#1. Ice on the evaporator coil

Unfortunately, people sometimes assume that ice is a normal part of how an AC works. It’s not! An air conditioner shouldn’t create ice anywhere in the system when it is working normally. If you see ice forming along the evaporator coil, it often indicates the system is losing refrigerant.

This may sound backwards: why would less refrigerant cause ice to form? The reason is that when there’s less refrigerant moving through the coil, the coil won’t absorb enough heat to raise the temperature of the remaining refrigerant above freezing. This will cause moisture on the coil to freeze and create the layer of ice you’re seeing.

#2. A rise in indoor humidity

Losing refrigerant will limit the cooling capacity of an AC, but you’re more likely to notice a change in indoor humidity levels before you notice a drop in cooling levels. The drop in refrigerant charge means the air conditioner is causing less moisture to condense from the air as it runs. Your AC isn’t a dehumidifier, but it does have dehumidification properties—and leaking refrigerant will throw those off.

#3. Hissing sounds

Do you hear a high-pitched hissing noise coming from either the indoor or outdoor components of your central AC? This is probably the sound of high-pressure refrigerant gas escaping from leaks in the lines.

#4. Bubbling sounds

Another warning sound from an air conditioner that points toward a refrigerant leak is bubbling. This is the sound of low-pressure refrigerant liquid escaping from leaks. 

#5. Short-cycling

This is when the AC doesn’t complete a full cooling cycle and instead shuts off the compressor after less than 15 minutes, only to start up again a short time later. There are many sources for short-cycling and all of them need to be addressed. Refrigerant leaks change the pressure within the AC, which can trigger short-cycling. 

#6. Uneven cooling

Experiencing hot spots around the house with rooms that aren’t warming up the way they should? This indicates the AC is losing its cooling capacity, and refrigerant leaks are a possible cause. No matter the origin of this problem, you’ll want professionals to look into it right away. 

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