Is It Normal For Air Conditioners to Lose Freon Over Time?
Does Refrigerant Dissipate or Beak Down?
The short answer is, no. Air conditioners and heat pumps do not lose refrigerant due to hard use after a hot summer season or over the course of time. The Freon, or refrigerant, is only the medium used to transfer heat from the inside of the home to the outside. Like refrigerators, air conditioners and heat pumps have a sealed refrigerant system. Freon does not dissipate or breakdown.
So where did it go? If you are low on Freon, it is because you have a leak somewhere in your air conditioning system or heat pump.
Freon leaks are typically found at the schrader valve, valve cores, evaporator coil, copper lines, “U” connectors, weld joints, electrical connection to the compressor body, or the copper tubing. Most of the time, the leak will usually occur in the evaporator coil.
The coil is made up of straight tubes, fins, “U” connectors and various other refrigerant carrying pieces that are welded together at the factory and should remain leak proof for the life of the AC unit. However, that’s not always the case.
Why is My Air Conditioner Leaking Freon?
The welds and parts are made up of different metals that expand and contract differently when exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations. These welds sometimes start to fail or crack resulting in a refrigerant leak.
There is also some long term deterioration that comes along with copper coils. Formic Acid, a byproduct of building materials, is released and is corrosive to copper. Over time it can etch away at the copper tubes and create microscopic leaks in the tubes themselves.
Newer homes are often notorious for developing Freon leaks quicker than older and more established homes because of the presence of more chemicals, such as Formaldehyde, in the building products.
Where Are Freon Leaks Typically Found?
Freon leaks are often found in the evaporator coil. The weakest areas are generally where the metal is stressed the most, the “U” joint, weld points and areas that are subject to the most vibration.
Other places include the schrader valve. The same type of valve you would find on your tire to fill it with air. Sometimes the rubber seals deteriorate or the schrader valve gets stuck and allows Freon or refrigerant to leak out of the air conditioning system.
If you have a heat pump, heat pumps have accumulators. Accumulators are necessary for the heat pump to provide heat in the winter are usually made from steel and after a few years they can begin to rust.
A capillary tube leak on the inside evaporator coil, or if you have a heat pump, on the outside heat pump condensing unit.
If the air conditioning or heat pump system has any flare connections leaks generally occur at these connection.
Filter dryers are installed in all refrigeration systems and are necessary for absorbing minute amounts of moisture in the system. They also filter out contaminants before they get into key components which would otherwise be damaged or plugged. These filter dryers have screens and desiccant inside them and the outer shell is made if steel. Over Time, Steel can rust.
The line set which carries refrigerant back forth from the condenser to the evaporator coil has been pierced or damaged. Damage can occur from a lawn mower or someone piercing the line set.
How Do You Find a Freon Leak?
There are several ways to test the lines in order to determine where the leak is.
The most precise method for locating Freon leaks is for the technician to install a liquid tracer into the air conditioning or heat pump system, and allow it to circulate about two weeks. A small amount of fluorescent dye is added to an air conditioning system or heat pump and allowed to circulate. The dye escapes with the system’s refrigerant or fluid and remains at all leak sites. When the system is scanned with an ultraviolet inspection lamp, the dye fluoresces brilliantly to pinpoint the exact source of every leak. Proven to find multiple and intermittent leaks undetectable by any other method. Even leaks smaller than 1/8 ounce per year.
If your air conditioner or heat pump is is losing Freon, it will require a professional air conditioning technician to accurately determine where the leak is occurring and recommend the most effective solution to repair the problem.
The following issues may indicate a refrigerant leak:
- Your home takes a long time to cool
- Warm air is coming out of your air registers
- Your evaporator coils are frozen over
- You hear a hissing sound
R22 Freon Is Expensive; Can I top It Off With R410a?
Unfortunately, R22 is incompatible with R40a. R22 Freon is mineral oil based and R410a refrigerant is synthetic based. Mixing them together will cause a great deal of damage to your air conditioner or heat pump. It would be like using synthetic oil to top off a car that uses regular oil.
R22 refrigerant costs around $100 per lb and the average fill up is 2-5 lbs, topping-off an R22 air conditioner can be very expensive.
The reason why R22 has become so expensive is because it is being phased out in the U.S. due to its very high potential to exacerbate ozone depletion. U.S. EPA has tried to reduce use of this material by imposing strict quotas on its production.
Call Universal Air and Heat to diagnose and repair the leak as quickly as possible. Refrigerant leaks can cause serious damage and significantly decrease the lifespan of your air conditioner or heat pump. One of our elite team of professional air conditioning and heat pump professionals will efficiently diagnose and detect any refrigerant leaks in your system and recommend the best and most cost effective solution.