There is a question about HVAC systems that our professionals actually get quite a bit. We’re sad that we get it so much, since it probably means at some point you’ve dealt with a shady “service professional,” but the question is, “how often does my refrigerant need refilling?”
Our somewhat short answer is, “If your system is properly cared for, never!”
Busting the Myth
There’s a common misconception among many homeowners that refrigerant is something that runs out, depletes, over time, much like gasoline from a car. This isn’t the case with refrigerant, though. Upon system installation, your HVAC system is supplied with enough of this important fluid to ideally last throughout its entire lifespan. Refrigerant continuously cycles through the air conditioner or heat pump, and effectively transfers heat to bring you a comfortable indoor climate.
You can only rely on this refrigerant lasting throughout your cooling system’s lifespan if the system is installed by experienced, professional HVAC technicians. Give that, there is a chance at some point you will need a refill (what’s known as a recharge).
“Wait, but you just said…”
Yes, we said that ideally refrigerant should last the entire lifespan of your system. Should. If your system is losing refrigerant it means that you have a leak!
The source of the leak must be located and the refrigerant line repairs in order to restore your air conditioner’s efficiency. Otherwise, your AC system will begin experiencing a number of problems, such as those we’ve outlined below.
A Loss of Airflow
When leaks occur in the refrigerant line, the air conditioner output will decline, along with the refrigerant level. Eventually, the refrigerant level will drop to the point that it will cause your cooling system to break down entirely.
If you do notice this, be sure to call our pros for service right away. The problem may be a refrigerant leak, but it could be something else like an air handler problem. Either way, you’ll want to get it taken care of ASAP.
Lukewarm Air Coming from Your Vents
Sometimes the problem isn’t airflow related, but rather temperature related. If your air conditioner seems to be running fine, but there is warm air coming from the vents, it’s definitely a sign that you have a refrigerant leak. This puts a lot of strain on the air conditioner, and you could wind up doing pretty serious and irreversible damage to the compressor by letting it continue.
Ice Developing on the Evaporator Coil
Through the refrigeration process in your air conditioner, refrigerant shifts from gaseous to liquid form, and is placed under a great deal of pressure before it enters the evaporator coils. The valve releases a precise amount into the coils, where the refrigerant then shifts back to gaseous form. As this occurs, it pulls heat from the nearby air, cooling it down in the process.
When a refrigerant leak happens, frost or ice will develop on the outside of the evaporator coil. Though it may seem somewhat normal for ice to be involved with cooling, this ice creates an insulating barrier between the refrigerant and the air that it’s meant to cool. This means your cooling system has to work even harder to do its job, until the problem gets so severe that your air conditioner can’t do its job at all.