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8 Ways to Identify HVAC Refrigerant Leaks

Home > QRC Blog > 8 Ways to Identify HVAC Refrigerant Leaks

refrigerant leak

A refrigerant leak is a very serious HVAC problem. Refrigerant (“Freon” or “coolant”) is what allows your heating and cooling system to extract and release heat. A leak will prevent it from working effectively. It can also cause the compressor to overheat and fail, as well as create health and environmental hazards. Fortunately, there are easy ways to determine whether your central or mini-split heating and cooling system has a refrigerant leak.

The causes of refrigerant leaks include:

  • Improperly installed parts and components
  • Factory defects in equipment
  • Rust and corrosion of metal coils
  • Worn rubber seals on valve stems
  • Vibrations from AC equipment
  • Damaged joints and connections
  • Landscaping equipment striking underground lines

Regardless of the cause, you need to identify a leak before it leads to serious damage.

Signs of a Refrigerant Leak

1. Your Electric Bill Is High

If your HVAC system is low on coolant, it will work harder to control the temperature in your home. This increases the amount of electricity it uses, so your power bill may be noticeably higher than it was last year at the same time. If this is the case and you’re not using your AC or heating system more, call a professional.

2. The AC Takes Longer to Cool Your Home

You should be used to how quickly your AC takes to cool your home, or how your heater gets rooms warm and cozy during the winter. If the system is leaking refrigerant, it will work much less effectively. It will take longer to achieve the right temperature. 

3. Warm Air Is Blowing from Your Air Conditioner

Feel the air coming from the vents. If the AC is running and the air blowing is not cold (or is blowing warm), and you can’t identify a simple reason, such as the thermostat being incorrectly set, call for help. Various problems can cause an AC to blow warm air. However, it’s an ominous sign of a coolant leak.

4. Humidity Levels Are Higher Than Normal

An HVAC unit is designed to dehumidify your home. This process should start in about 15 minutes once the system is on. If the air in your home feels sticky or humidity levels increase or fluctuate, there may be a refrigerant leak. The recommended indoor humidity level is between 30% to 50%.

5. Hissing Sounds from the HVAC Unit

A hissing noise from any part of your HVAC system is a good reason to call for help. It’s likely coming from a crack or hole in a coil. If the metal has eroded, refrigerant can be forced through the hole like air being squeezed through a hole in a balloon.

6. The Evaporator Coil Is Frozen

As the refrigerant circulates through the evaporator coil, it absorbs heat. The coil will be unable to pull heat if coolant levels are low. Therefore, it will freeze. A frozen evaporator coil will cause your HVAC system to break down if not fixed. Repairing this type of damage can be quite expensive.

7. Water Is Leaking from the AC

Ice that forms on the evaporator coil will start to melt when the system turns off. As a result, you’ll see water dripping and puddling on the floor near the unit. It’s safe to assume there’s a refrigerant leak, which can do substantial damage on top of the potential for water damage and mold in your home.

8. Bubbles Form on the Evaporator Coil

If you suspect refrigerant may be leaking from your HVAC unit, check the evaporator coil for tiny bubbles or beads. This happens when condensation on the coils combines with leaking coolant. When you see bubbles on the coil, call for HVAC repair.

How Are HVAC Refrigerant Leaks Fixed?

While a small leak can be patched, the evaporator coil must be replaced if it’s significantly worn or has multiple holes. If the leak is coming from the line set (the pipes that carry coolant between the coil and condenser), it must be replaced. 

Is It Worth Fixing a Refrigerant Leak?

There are various factors to consider in determining whether a leak is worth fixing. If your HVAC unit is over 10 years old and inefficient, replacing it is better, especially if a repair will cost over $5,000. Also, consider the phase-out of R-22 refrigerant. Obtaining Freon is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive and many contractors won’t bother doing so.

Can HVAC Coolant Leaks Be Prevented?

Keeping the system clean can prevent damage that can lead to a refrigerant leak. Scheduling regular maintenance is also a good way to avoid this problem. During an inspection, a technician will look for issues that may cause a leak if not fixed or detect early signs of a leak before it gets worse.

Contact QRC for HVAC Repair in Winston-Salem

At QRC, our EPA-certified technicians provide all types of AC and heating repair. They’re timely, precise, and focused on helping you understand the issue and how we can fix it. Our team provides the right solution when you have a refrigerant leak or any other problem. We also provide AC, heating, and mini-split installation and maintenance. To request service or learn more about our special offers and financing options, schedule an appointment or call (336) 396-8712 today.