This is a fairly common air conditioning myth among homeowners—that the refrigerant in the system “runs out” like gasoline does from a car. Unfortunately, dishonest or well-meaning but ill-informed amateurs have contributed to this myth. They may have told you that refrigerant needs to be “topped off” every now and then, like during your maintenance session.
We understand why you might believe this misconception, too. Refrigerant seems like a “fuel” for your air conditioner, right? Well not quite—it is what enables the cooling process, but it recycles continuously throughout the system rather than depleting like gasoline from a car. In other words, your air conditioner should never lose refrigerant—and if it is, it means you have a leak that needs repair.
The Function of Refrigerant
As refrigerant shifts from a liquid to gas and back, it absorbs and releases heat. This process makes it possible for your air conditioner to actually cool your home.
The compressor of the cooling system changes liquid refrigerant into a high-pressure, high-temperature gas. From there, refrigerant moves to the outside coil of the AC system and releases heat through condensation, therefore cooling it down.
By the time refrigerant reaches the indoor coil, it’s cooled to the point that it causes evaporation when it meets the warmer indoor air. This siphons heat from the air, keeping your home nice and cool. The refrigerant, transferred back into a liquid, returns to the compressor to restart the cycle.
When You Have a Refrigerant Leak
As stated above, the only time you’ll have refrigerant loss is if you have a leak. This is literally the only time an air conditioner will “run out” of refrigerant.
And a refrigerant leak is nothing to take lightly. It can cause all sorts of other problems. If you aren’t careful, you could find yourself facing a full air conditioner breakdown, which is definitely not something you want. Therefore, it’s imperative to be aware of the signs that suggest you do, in fact, have a leak. These signs include:
- Low cooling output.
- Liquid coming from the system.
- A “hissing” or “bubbling” noise coming from the system.
What to Do if You Have a Leak
So, what happens if you do suspect you have a leak in your refrigerant line? The most important next step to take is to contact a trained and experienced HVAC professional. Only experienced technicians will have the tools, training, and expertise to accurately determine the exact source of a refrigerant leak and repair it as it should be. Additionally, your technician will recharge (refill) the system so you have the right amount of refrigerant again.
Remember, there are plenty of inexperienced handymen out there willing to service your air conditioner, but many times, an attempt to cut costs can wind up costing you more in the long run, since you’ll have to call in a pro anyway to repair the mistakes the amateur made.