Central air conditioners are installed to provide the desired temperature in homes. A non-functional cooling system can be frustrating, especially on hot sunny days. When the functionality of your cooling system reduces, the likely culprit is the refrigerant. Most times, air conditioners do not require a recharge throughout their working lifespan. However, certain factors like wear and tear, improper management, contaminants, and other issues can cause a decrease in functionality. Also, it is entirely possible that the refrigerant level could become low.
There are visible changes that would help you ascertain that your air conditioner needs a refrigerant replacement. It is crucial never to overlook these signs as they can help you help prevent further damages. In this article, we will explain what an air con recharge means and how to be sure your air conditioner needs recharging.
What does AC recharge mean?
Possibly, you have been wondering what it means to recharge an air conditioner. The air conditioning system does not have a battery that you plug in when the functionality reduces. Recharging your air conditioner in this context means adding more refrigerant to the system. The refrigerant is the main component that helps to cool your home effectively.
How often should I refill my refrigerant?
Refrigerant replacement is one of the frequently asked questions among homeowners. Refrigerant is not something you decide to replace when there is absolutely no need. Likewise, it is a misconception that refrigerant level depletes with time and often needs replacement. A refrigerant is not fuel that burns to power your air conditioning system.
The primary function of a refrigerant is to transfer heat effectively. Thus, the refrigerant absorbs and releases heat from the air. Also, refrigerant occupies the copper coils between your evaporator and condenser. Upon installation of your air conditioning system, there is enough supply of coolant that will last throughout the life-span of the HVAC system. The air conditioner can achieve this function because the coils run in a closed circuit. However, there is a possibility that your system might suffer a leak, leading to a need to recharge your air conditioner.
Refrigerant recharge vs. refrigerant replacement
A refrigerant replacement involves an evacuation and a recharge. The systems operator connects the air conditioner to a service machine that vacuums all the old refrigerant. Afterward, the operator replaces it with a new one. On the other hand, a refrigerant recharge involves the addition of lost refrigerant. In this case, your HVAC expert uses equipment to gauge and check the level of the coolant left in the AC. Doing this would enable the expert to know the amount of refrigerant required to recharge your air conditioner. In cases where the refrigerant is vacuumed from the system, it can be recycled to remove any impurities before introducing the clean refrigerant back into the system.
How to tell that your AC needs recharging
A central air conditioner should never require a recharge unless there is a refrigerant leak. Because air conditioner does not require frequent recharging, some signs can help you ascertain when you need a recharge. When the functionality of your air conditioner suddenly drops, you may need to recharge your air conditioner immediately. Doing this would prevent further damages to the HVAC system.
Additionally, a thorough inspection will help you ensure you are on the right path. During your examination, you should look out for the following areas:
1. Check the whole unit for dust and debris build-up: The outdoor units have covering panels that can loosen with time. They can serve as an entry point for dirt and dust, causing the fan to stop. As a result, the flow of air and cooling effect reduces.
2. Assess the filters because they can clog with time: When the filters clog, it can decrease the functioning of the air con. So before you consider air conditioner recharge, check your filters. If the filters are clogged up, you should remove the debris and see if the functionality of your air conditioner would increase.
Therefore, before you automatically determine that your refrigerant is leaky, ensure your air conditioner is free from dirt. A lot of times, consumers go ahead to change the refrigerant without checking other parts of the air conditioner. They make use of equipment found at home to achieve this. The procedure is a sensitive one, and you can introduce contaminants into the system without realizing it.
Common signs that indicate that you need a recharge
1. A sudden decrease in the cooling output: The leading cause of a reduction in cooling output is a leak. If a leak occurs in your air conditioner, the output and refrigerant levels drop. As a result, the level of the refrigerant will not be sufficient to maintain the function of the cooling system. However, a decrease in the cooling output might not necessarily mean that your refrigerant needs a replacement; it may be as a result of air handler problem. Either way, you need to contact a professional to check it out.
2. Warm air from the vents: You may need an air con recharge if your air conditioning blows warm air. When there is a refrigerant leak, the level decreases and there is increased pressure on the air conditioner.
Consequently, the effect of this could be irreversible if you do not address it promptly. You can confirm this fault by placing your hand in front of the vents for a few minutes. Also, thermostat readings may be a good indicator for an air con recharge. However, you need to look out for other signs before a recharge. Ensure the thermostat is not broken or faulty when you feel warm hair coming from the vents.
3. Ice on the evaporator coil: Ice forming on your evaporator coil insulates your air conditioner. Consequently, there is a barrier between the refrigerant and air that it is meant to cool, causing low temperature. When the temperature drops, the evaporator coil freezes, and cold fluid runs through the refrigerant line.
The internal cold causes the surrounding moisture to freeze. When this happens, you may notice ice on the external surface. Also, your air conditioner would have to work harder to achieve its purpose, thereby stressing it. The formation of ice indicates that your air conditioner needs a recharge.
4. Higher than average energy bills: Possibly, you may notice higher than regular bills after a while. When your refrigerant needs replacement, the air conditioner does more work to override the warm air. As a result, it causes stress for the operation of the system leading to increased bills.
5. A hissing sound from the refrigerant lines: The pressure level in the refrigerant line can be high. When a closed circuit has a high-pressure leak, it releases a sound. The hissing is the refrigerant line trying to release the pressure.
6. Visible signs of refrigerant leaks: Spotting signs of greasy substances on your air conditioning system could indicate a hole in the refrigerant lines. Also, you may notice a pool of refrigerant under the air conditioner. The coolant would continue to leak unless you fix the system.
7. AC clutch fails to engage: When the air conditioner is at maximum coldness, you should hear a clutch engaging. The clutch reads the level of pressure in the AC. Therefore, if the pressure is too low due to a leak, the clutch will not engage. As a result, the system will not be able to circulate the low amount of refrigerant and will stop working. Failure to engage occurs when the refrigerant level is already too small for proper functioning.
Asides from having a refrigerant leak, another cause of low refrigerant level are substandard installation. In cases where your AC is fairly new and already requires an air con recharge, the suspect may be a lousy fitting. Air conditioners can work for up to 20 years, and the refrigerant often lasts longer than the system.
A poorly installed HVAC system will present refrigerant issues earlier than expected. You should not be replacing refrigerants after a year of installing an air conditioner. Even if your maintenance level is low, leaks should not occur when your air conditioner is just a few years old. Therefore, you need to contact your maintenance company for a thorough assessment.
The main reason why you need an air con recharge
When there is a leak in the air conditioner, it can lead to damage to your AC compressor. The compressor has the principal function of pressurizing the refrigerant and keeping it flowing throughout the system. When the level of coolant reaches the barest minimum, there may be irreversible damage to your air conditioner. Most air conditioners are designed to shut down when the refrigerant level is too low. However, it is a risk you should not take.
The cost of an air conditioner replacement is much more than air conditioner recharge. If the leak is small and has not damaged any significant parts of your air conditioning system, you might want to stick with an air conditioner recharge. However, if you need to replace parts of the air con or fix major leaks, an air conditioner replacement might be necessary. A professional will help you make the best decision regarding your air conditioning system.
Related article: Why your air conditioner is leaking water?
Next step after identifying a leak
Although it is possible to recharge your air conditioner by yourself, it is not advisable. It is a great way to save cost but could potentially be dangerous. Homeowners lack the knowledge and skills to recharge air conditioners properly. The only exception is if you have a license from the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA). EPA certified individuals or contractors know how dangerous refrigerants can be. Therefore, they can protect themselves adequately.
The next step after identifying a leak is to call a professional. Do not attempt to recharge your air conditioner yourself. Likewise, do not give the job to a handy or repairman. Refrigerant is a toxic substance that can be harmful if you do not manage it properly. Unless you have the necessary skills to handle refrigerants, hire a professional. Possibly, you may even be able to identify other maintenance issues if you let a professional handle the job.
While it is essential to get an air con recharge, you should also address the underlying issue. A leak in the refrigerant coil is the primary source of the problem. If you do not repair the leakage along the refrigeration lines, you would be calling your HVAC expert again to recharge your air conditioner in no time. As a result, you will spend a lot of money to get an air con recharge every time. Therefore, you should make sure that your contractor does not just recharge your air conditioner but also fixes the primary cause of the leak.
Tips to consider when your air conditioner needs a recharge
1. Do not top up unless there is a leak. No doubt you are aware by now that refrigerant is not lost unless there is a leak. Therefore, annual or monthly top-up with refrigerant is not necessary for optimal functioning. Frequent top up can cause more harm than good.
2. Avoid adding too much refrigerant. While it is necessary to get a refrigerant replacement, you should not go over the prescribed refrigerant level. An expert will make sure to add the exact amount that is lost. Besides, excessive refrigerant can cause irreversible damage to your air conditioning system. This can occur as a result of backflow of refrigerant into the central system.
3. Do not mix refrigerants. Selecting the right type of refrigerant can be dicey. The coolant that was in the refrigerant line may be different from the new one. This results in the mixing of different types of refrigerant and a consequent decrease in the efficiency of the air conditioning system. Using two different refrigerants has been reported by some consumers to be bad for their air conditioning system.
4. Hire certified and licensed professionals. Getting an expert that would do a thorough assessment is your best bet. You should not give the job to cheap and inexperienced maintenance specialists.
In conclusion, your air conditioner hardly needs a recharge. However, when you notice signs of decreased functioning, a leak should be suspected. In cases where you have to refill with refrigerants every week, you have not solved the main problem, which is the leak. Sometimes, the leak may be small, and you might not notice it. Finally, we cannot overemphasize the importance of hiring a professional. The law requires individuals who are certified and licensed handle refrigerants. We have certified HVAC professionals that can take care of your HVAC needs. Call us today!