The Dangers of Low Refrigerant in an Air Conditioning System

People often misunderstand the role of refrigerant (a.k.a. “Freon”) in an air conditioner. Refrigerant is not a type of fuel: an AC doesn’t use up its refrigerant as it runs the way that a car uses gasoline or a cell phone drains its electrical charge. Refrigerant remains at the same level in an air conditioner as it moves between liquid and gaseous states, absorbing heating through evaporation and then releasing it through condensation.

However, an AC can lose refrigerant due to leaks… and when this happens it will cause severe problems for the system:

Loss in cooling power

An air conditioner is designed to operate with a specific amount of refrigerant, which is known as the system’s charge. If this level drops, it impairs the system’s ability to effectively remove heat from the indoors and release it outdoors.

Icing along the indoor coil

A noticeable problem that low refrigerant creates is icing along the indoor evaporator coil. This seems counterintuitive at first: how will less refrigerant make it colder along the coil? What’s happening is that the reduced refrigerant level is making it harder for the coil to absorb sufficient heat to warm up the cold refrigerant. The refrigerant remains too cold, causing moisture to freeze along the coil’s surface—and this will only further impair the AC’s cooling performance. It will also lead to the air conditioner running continually, trying to make up for the deficit in cooling.

Damage to the compressor

This is the biggest problem that loss of refrigerant can create. The change in pressure because of the drop in refrigerant can cause serious damage to the compressor, eventually leading to it burning out. A failed compressor usually must be replaced, which is an expensive repair.

When you notice any warning sign of a loss of refrigerant—such as a drop in cooling, ice along the coils, a continually running AC, or hissing sounds—contact HVAC repair technicians immediately!

When you need effective air conditioning repairs in Fletcher, NC, call on Comfort Central, Inc. We serve Western North Carolina’s Heating, Cooling and Indoor Environmental Needs.

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