Does Your AC Have A Freon Leak? How To Tell & What To Do [With Pictures]

It's hot outside, but your AC seems to be taking it easy. Therefore, you wonder, "why isn't it cooling as much, and WHY NOW??!" Wait - you've heard that sometimes an AC can act funny when it has too little Freon or refrigerant. Well, is that what's happening to my AC unit?

Too little Freon…that shouldn't be hard to fix, right? Just recharge it with a bit and your house will have cold air again? If you don't know, that's a shortcut that may ultimately cost you more. However, there's no reason to fear because this is the blog you need! Read on to learn about the role of freon (or refrigerant) in the cooling process, how to tell if your system is has a freon leak, and how much it costs to repair.

For clarity, your system could only have a small leak. That said, not every freon leak is the same. So naturally, if you want to get your house cooling again quickly, call your qualified SuperTech HVAC technician. To explain why, we're Baltimore's top-rated cooling contractor, and we've repaired hundreds of pesky freon leaks over the years. With that being the case, we can take care of your leak just as efficiently or let you know if you need to replace your air conditioner.

By all means, we'll give you a reliable diagnosis and fix your system ASAP. You won't need to sweat if you get SuperTech on the job!

We Can Seal Your Leaks So Fast You'll Forget You Had Them!

How Does Freon Work In Your Home's AC? 

Refrigerant is the liquid/gas your AC unit cycles through the system's pipes to remove heat from your house. Furthermore, it's also called "freon" or "coolant." 

The level of Freon/refrigerant in the system always stays the same - unless there's a leak. For clarity, it isn't used up like gas in a car. It just gets pushed around your AC system. While moving through the system, it collects heat inside your house at the evaporator and dumps it outside in the condenser. 

To your knowledge, finely-tuned pressure changes of the Freon drive the whole system. Without getting into too much detail, low pressure Freon grabs heat from your house's air, and high pressure Freon is used to get rid of the heat. 

Don't forget, the pressure levels have to be right for the system to work well!

Equally important, too little Freon in your pipes drops the pressure below the proper levels. On that note, as the Freon level drops because of a leak, your air conditioner becomes less efficient. Pretty soon, it just isn't going to cool your house anymore, making your indoor air quality incredibly poor!

To conclude, if you want a visual representation of the refrigerant's circulation process, we've included this helpful YouTube video:

Signs That Your AC Has A Freon Leak

In most cases, it's hard for a homeowner to ensure that their air conditioning problem is a refrigerant leak, not something else. To explain, the leak will usually be a small, hard-to-find hole, and the Freon escapes as a gas that you aren't going to see. 

First off, here are some tip-offs that your AC system may be experiencing a refrigerant leak: 

  1. The air conditioning is blowing warm air.
  2. No air is coming from the vents.
  3.  Your utility bills have increased significantly.
  4. Your air conditioner isn't making any sound.

That said, how do you know it's a Freon leak causing the problems with hot air blowing into your house? To put it simply, figuring that out is tricky. Usually, the layman won't be able to tell for sure.

Major Signs Of A Leak

In some cases, you'll hear hissing from your AC unit. If so, it's a pretty sure sign that it's leaking. Furthermore, if you see a pipe that's clearly damaged or rusted, it can tip you off to the possibility of a leak. 

Beyond this, maybe you've looked at the indoor unit and seen ice frozen and running along your system's line through the wall. In this situation, your system's evaporator coil may have frozen. If it has, that's a huge problem!

So you understand, tour coils are supposed to feel cold - but they are not supposed to freeze. If they have, it may be because too little refrigerant has significantly decreased the substance's pressure and temperature.   

But remember, in any situation where you need your air conditioning issues diagnosed, SuperTech is ready for your call! For your comfort, our technicians can measure your freon's pressure and temperature changes following the superheating and subcooling phases of your AC. By doing this, we can look for typical leak patterns and troubleshoot the cause if one is present.  

What Causes Freon Leaks 

For starters, if your AC unit is leaking at less than a year old, this is most often because of factory defects. Luckily, everything should still be under warranty.

Furthermore, vibrations in your unit can cause AC refrigerant leaks. To explain, when your unit shakes, the pipes and coils may bang into other parts of the condenser, damaging the line. What's more, vibrations can also stress the welds and fittings of the pipes, forming leaks. Be aware, vibrations are more common in older systems that have had more wear and tear. 

Sometimes, leaks come from straight-up physical damage, too. Specifically, have you had any home improvements done recently? Or maybe you have children? An energetic dog? Occasionally, the pipes for the AC even get accidentally knocked, bumped, or bent without anyone noticing.

Just as significant, pipe corrosion can also cause leaks. If outside, that might not surprise you. Surprisingly, though, the pollution inside your house can also cause decay. For example, new furniture and carpets are known to let a lot of formaldehyde into the air. If they do, it may react with the metal pipes in your AC and form acid. In turn, that acid can corrode the pipe and - voila! - birth a leak. 

Where Are AC Refrigerant Leaks Found?

Typically, leaks in the system happen where the pipes are weaker or more exposed to vibration. 

For example, the joints and fittings of pipes can develop leaks. Even more, corrosion sometimes finds a way more quickly through a weld. Very importantly, joints and welds that vibrate too much may be stressed more than they should be. On that note, look at them carefully for signs of strain. 

Just as importantly, your AC system features several Schrader valves that help the technician service the system. However, they do not like corrosion or getting knocked. Furthermore, they have rubber seals that can crack as the AC ages. Additionally, the evaporator coil is a frequent spot for technicians to find leaks, especially at the "U" bends and welded joints.

Beyond this, leaks in the condenser, or outdoor, coils are typically due to excessive vibration.

Beyond this, some units might have a heat pump condenser with an interior accumulator for abnormally long refrigerant lines. To explain, the accumulator is a device that catches excess liquid to protect the AC compressor from flooding. And, since it is usually made from steel, it can start to rust with time.

Additionally, the linesets are the copper tubes carrying the Freon between the condenser to the evaporator. To clarify, you can check the pipe joints for leaks first, but you'll also have to inspect as much of their visible length. 

Seal That Leak to Restore System Efficiency!

How To Find A Freon Leak

So you know, once the technician determines your Freon is low, they'll use one of several quick methods to search for the leak. 

For starters, they may look for a bit of oil that has collected around an AC refrigerant leak. However, this will only be visible for oil-based refrigerants.

In some places, they may also use an electronic detector that signals when it measures a small amount of freon gas. 

Furthermore, a little soapy water sprayed or dabbed onto joints or suspect areas is another method for finding a leak. With this, if enough refrigerant gas is pushed out, it'll form bubbles that give it away. 

Beyond these, the nitrogen method ensures there is enough pressure in the system to find the leak with soapy water. To explain, this method involves draining the Freon and pressurizing the empty pipes with nitrogen. After this, the increased pressure inside the lines pushes out gas through the leak and cause bubbling when using soapy water.  

Finally, the most reliable - albeit time-consuming - way to find a leak involves fluorescent dye. First, the technician adds a dye type compatible with the kind of refrigerant in the AC system. Then, after it circulates for about two weeks, they scan the pipes with a black light acting as a leak detector. Fantastically, even the most minor leaks can be shown as fluorescent spots!  

How Much Does It Cost To Fix A Refrigerant Leak?

To be clear, it is not easy to say in advance how much it costs to repair a Freon leak. In fact, it depends on:

  1. How quickly the technician finds the leak.
  2. How costly that part of the system is to repair.
  3. Whether the component is covered by warranty. 

Occasionally, AC refrigerant leaks occur in hard-to-see parts of air conditioners, such as where the lineset goes through the wall. Other times, the hole can be so small that it's difficult to detect using the quicker methods discussed in the above section. 

Fortunately, leaks at pipe joints that are found quickly may only require on-site brazing. If so, that HVAC repair will be relatively quick and inexpensive.

However, other leaks may require you to replace a part of your system. For example, a problem with the evaporator coil, condenser coil, or lineset generally requires complete replacement of the piece and takes longer to repair. 

As a typical example, evaporator coils that leak generally have to be replaced rather than repaired - and they are expensive parts. In that case, if the coil is still under warranty, you'll only have to pay for labor. Conversely, if your unit is older and no longer under warranty, you must decide if it's worth investing a lot of money into an older system (more on this later…). 

By the way, even if you find a leak, it isn't something you should fix yourself. As to why, refrigerant is a hazardous chemical that you shouldn't take lightly. In fact, you need an EPA license to work with refrigerants and dispose of them properly. Otherwise, you may have to pay a massive fine.

Can I Recharge My AC's Freon Without Fixing The Leak?

In simple terms, we don't recommend doing this.

Why? Well, freon is hazardous, and if you recharge your air conditioning system without finding the leak, you'll be letting even more refrigerant into your house and the environment. As you may suspect, that's not good for your health or for the safety of nature!

In fact, some states have even made it illegal to keep adding Freon into a system without finding the leak, fixing it, and preventing the refrigerant from escaping into the environment. 

Furthermore, don't forget the cost. To explain, most people who decide to recharge their refrigerant think it's cheaper. That said, at some point, they realize that recharging is only more affordable if they do it once. After the second or third recharge, they've spent extra money and still haven't fixed the leak. In the end, they were postponing the inevitable and paying extra to do it!

Speaking of cost…

Should I Fix The Coolant Leak or Replace My Cooling System?

If you have an older system AND an expensive AC leak to repair (like replacing a pricy evaporator coil), installing a new system may be better.

Sure, replacing the system may cost more than this one air conditioning repair, but older systems have a higher chance of breaking down soon. Also, you save money on your utility bills with a new machine that is much more efficient.

Furthermore, new units are efficient enough that tax credits are usually offered for replacing your old AC system.  

To clarify things further, we'll discuss the $5,000 and 50% rules. Simply, these state that if repairs for your HVAC system exceeds $5,000 or 50% of the system's market value, it's better to replace them. Oppositely, if the price is lower than that, you should stick with repairs temporarily.

Remember: no AC system lasts forever. At some point, yours will break down. With that being the case, replacing it ASAP is best if your system seems to be dying. So, if you replace it before it breaks down, you won't have to deal with having nothing to cool your house.

Furthermore, be aware that if you have an older AC system, it likely uses R22 freon. In particular, many roof-installed commercial condensers run on it. Problematically, it was declared an environmental hazard in the United States in 2020. Therefore, it can no longer be produced or imported into the country. So, if you have an aging system leaking R22 freon, you have two incentives to replace it. To clarify, you'll have an excellent new long-term product and help protect the environment!

Check out our blog if you want to learn more about R22 freon.

Frequently Asked Questions About Refrigerant Leaks

Does freon leak when my AC unit is turned off?

Yes! For clarity, the freon in the pipes of your AC is under pressure whether the unit is on or off, and the pressure pushes the freon out through the leak even if the unit is off.

What does a coolant leak look like?

Don't worry, because you'll never see it. 

Just kidding! To explain, freon escapes as a gas, so you won't see it leaving from a hole. However, some refrigerants contain mineral oil, and it's possible that some oil will collect around the leak. 

How long does it take for freon to leak out of the system?

Well, it depends on the size of the leak. For example, the tiniest leaks can take years to be noticeable. However, bigger leaks can empty a system within days. 

Additionally, for those who want to top-up the Freon without finding the leak, remember that some leaks due to vibration and corrosion can become larger over time. Remember, your next fill-up could occur sooner than you expect.

What does freon smell like?

Very simply, it's odorless.

Can freon make you sick?

Yes, it can. To explain, freon is a hazardous chemical. Therefore, even light exposure to a refrigerant in an enclosed space can irritate your eyes and nose, give you a headache, and make you dizzy and nauseous. Furthermore, severe exposures can lead to organ shutdown—scary stuff.

If you suspect a leak, make sure the area gets well-ventilated. Obviously, a trained, EPA-certified technician should perform repairs for an AC involving Freon. Beware, you may severely regret it if you experience refrigerant poisoning.

How Can I Prevent Future Freon Leaks?

Naturally, we can't do much about your kids or pet dog bumping into your AC unit. Unfortunately, you're on your own there! 

Therefore, a professionally installed, regularly maintained unit is the best way to stop unnecessary leaks.

Why is that? For one, a system that runs smoothly and efficiently won't start to vibrate where it shouldn't be vibrating, and vibrations can lead to leaks. Beyond this, your technician will recognize problem areas quickly during maintenance and make sure that vibrations are corrected before they lead to a leak.

And remember: you can reduce the chances of an AC freon leak by hiring a qualified SuperTech technician for your HVAC maintenance. For your comfort, we'll recognize early signs of leaks before they become a problem, and our efficient work will keep acid-causing moisture out of your refrigerant!

One Call To SuperTech And Your Freon Problems Are Gone!

Ensure Your Refrigerant Line Stays Safe From Cracks!

Now, you know the basics of finding and fixing a Freon leak. 

Yes, some leaks are more costly to fix than others. However, keeping your system happy and running is important. Don't forget, ignoring the problems won't make them go away and could lead to major repairs.

And, for anyone in or around Baltimore who needs a refrigerant leak sealed, you won't find a better contractor than SuperTech! Speaking to why we're number 1, we employ qualified and certified technicians with years of experience working with refrigerant. Specifically, our repair people will diagnose your system, discover the source and location of the freon leak, let you know in detail what they can do to fix them, and explain how to prevent leaks in the future.

That said, keep your cool through a refrigerant leak by calling SuperTech. If you choose us, our trained technician will get your air conditioning unit blowing cool air again before you remember it was out! 

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