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3 Reasons A Refrigerant Leak Isn't A Minor Problem

Are you ignoring a known refrigerant leak in your home's air conditioning system? Refrigerant is the magic ingredient that allows your air conditioner to move heat from your home to the outside world, and losing too much refrigerant will quickly disable your system. However, minor refrigerant leaks may take longer to produce such dramatic systems.

A small leak may have a relatively minimal impact on your system's performance, potentially only causing the evaporator coils to freeze when the system needs to work hard. You might think you can save some money by living with these issues (at least for a while), but here are three reasons why you shouldn't ignore this seemingly minor problem. 

1. Refrigerant Is An Environmental Contaminant

Older refrigerants could be extremely devastating to the environment. These chemicals, known as chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, can cause severe ozone depletion. As a result, federal regulators have phased out many of these chemicals in favor of more environmentally friendly options. However, older systems may still contain dangerous CFCs that a leak can release into the environment.

Even with a newer system, refrigerant chemicals are generally unsafe for uncontrolled release into the environment, so trained contractors must recover these chemicals when emptying a system. If your system is leaking refrigerant, you're releasing these harmful chemicals into the atmosphere, creating a small chemical spill in your home.

2. Ongoing Leaks Cost Money

A refrigerant leak will impact your system's efficiency, even if you're not noticing much difference in its behavior. When the refrigerant pressure in your system falls, the temperature at your evaporator coil will also fall. Lower temperatures will allow ice to form on the coils, insulating them and reducing their ability to transfer heat from the air to the refrigerant.

The longer you operate your system with an active leak, the more money you'll spend to cool your home. Your system will also do a worse job removing humidity since warm air will blow over the frozen evaporator, picking up moisture from the ice. Ultimately, ignoring a refrigerant leak will lead to higher utility bills, and you'll still need to fix the leak eventually.

3. You Will Eventually Damage Your Compressor

When refrigerant returns to your system's compressor, it does so as a saturated vapor. The refrigerant must be in this gas-phase state so that the compressor can add pressure and cause the vapor to condense into a liquid. This process helps to release heat from the refrigerant and drives the refrigerant cycle.

However, a frozen evaporator will potentially allow liquid refrigerant to return to the compressor. This liquid can severely damage or destroy the compressor by washing away oil or forcing it to overheat as it attempts to compress incompressible liquid. Since compressors are typically the most expensive parts of an AC system, replacing one is far more costly than fixing a refrigerant leak.

Contact a residential HVAC repair technician for more info.