Air conditioners work by circulating coolant, also known as refrigerant, through a coil. The refrigerant expands, and as it does, it cools. Air blows past the coil and becomes cool before being blown into your home. Sometimes, air conditioners develop refrigerant leaks. This is an issue that needs to be addressed by an HVAC technician, but it's still good for you to know the basics of how refrigerant leaks are handled. So, take a look at the following FAQs about the topic.
How can you tell if your AC unit has a refrigerant leak?
If an air conditioner is leaking refrigerant, you will often notice that the system turns on and off in short succession. This behavior is known as short-cycling. It happens because when there is not enough refrigerant in the coil, it hyper-expands and becomes too cool, which causes the unit to turn off prematurely. Refrigerant leaks can also cause your AC unit to become covered in ice or snow. Your home may not maintain temperature, either. For instance, you may set the thermostat to 74, but your home may never get cooler than 76 degrees.
How will an AC contractor fix a refrigerant leak?
If your AC contractor confirms that your unit is leaking refrigerant, they will begin by plugging the leak. Usually, they will do this with some sort of solder or metal patching process, since the coils are made from metal. Once the crack or hole that was leaking is plugged, your AC contractor will pump some additional refrigerant into the coil. They'll then check to make sure it does not leak anymore before turning the system back on to make sure everything works.
Why do AC contractors sometimes recommend replacing leaking AC units?
If your AC contractor shows up, takes a look, and advises you to replace your AC unit rather than having the refrigerant leak repaired, this is for a good reason. Likely, your AC unit is old enough that the refrigerant it uses is no longer available, or is prohibitively expensive. You cannot put a different refrigerant in a unit than the one it was designed for. So, your best option is to have the old AC unit replaced with one that uses a newer refrigerant.
Now, if you ever have a refrigerant leak, you should have a better idea of what to do and how to handle it. When in doubt, call an air conditioning repair service.