The heating and cooling systems in your home are crucial in creating a comfortable living environment. No one wants to come home to a hot house in the middle of summer or a freezing home in the dead of winter. Now that we’re in the heat of summer, it’s becoming a lot more obvious if your home isn’t cooling off like it should. Have you noticed warm air or weak airflow coming from your vents? Maybe you’ve seen or heard things that aren’t normal when your air conditioning is running. If so, it’s possible you may have a refrigerant leak on your hands. Find out what refrigerant is, why a leak is dangerous, and what signs you should watch out for so that you know if you need to call an HVAC company.

What Is Refrigerant?

Refrigerant is a blend of chemicals that cycle through your HVAC system. It starts as a liquid and changes to a gas as it absorbs and releases heat from your home. The refrigerants used today are effective and efficient in removing heat from the air. Over time, however, issues in your refrigerant line can cause leaks, which can lead to a number of problems for your HVAC system.

What Causes Refrigerant Leaks?

Refrigerant leaks are typically caused by wear and tear that happens to HVAC systems over the years. Some of the most common causes of refrigerant leaks are:

  • Corrosion – HVAC systems have copper tube walls inside the indoor coil. When these walls become corroded, they can form cracks and holes, which can allow the refrigerant to leak.
  • Wear and tear – HVAC units experience natural wear and tear as they are used over the years. As components start to break or wear down, they can cause refrigerant leaks.
  • Improper installation – If the HVAC system was not properly installed, it may have caused a refrigerant leak to be present. Incorrectly fitted parts and components can allow the refrigerant to escape into the air.
  • Weakened joints and connections – Time and age can cause connections and joints to erode or thin out, making ways for refrigerant to leak out.
  • Factory defects – Though usually detected prior to installation, an undetected factory defect could cause a refrigerant leak in your home. These defects can be caused by poor assembly, damaged or missing parts or components, and improper handling.

Dangers of Refrigerant Leaks

A refrigerant leak causes the level of refrigerant in your HVAC system to fall below what it should be. This will make your system incapable of cooling efficiently. Your HVAC will likely struggle to produce enough air conditioning, keeping your home from reaching the temperature you have set. This inefficiency isn’t just bad for our HVAC unit because it has to work harder, but it will also increase your utility bills.

Not only will you need to spend more money to run your HVAC system, but you will also need to pay for continuous recharging of refrigerant. Depending on the type of refrigerant your system uses, you may have to pay a pretty penny each time you have to get it recharged.

The most important danger, however, is the harm a refrigerant leak can have on your health and the environment. Refrigerant contains chemicals that can be poisonous if breathed in. Because it is tasteless and odorless, you likely won’t know it is entering your system until you experience refrigerant poisoning. Some of the symptoms you may experience include headaches, difficulty breathing, coughing, nausea and vomiting, and skin and eye irritation. If left untreated, refrigerant poisoning can lead to life threatening issues such as labored breathing, buildup of fluid in the lungs, irregular heartbeat, mental fatigue and confusion, seizures, and loss of consciousness. If you experience any of these symptoms of refrigerant poisoning, please see a doctor immediately.

Signs of a Refrigerant Leak

If you notice any of these signs, you should contact an HVAC company to come check your system for a refrigerant leak as soon as possible.

  1.  Loss of Cooling – Refrigerant is vital to the cooling process within your HVAC unit. It absorbs the heat from the air in your home and releases it outside. If the refrigerant levels are low, your unit will take longer to cool your home or will be unable to cool it to your desired set temperature.
  2. Not Blowing Cool Air – When your air conditioner is running, it is supposed to blow cool air out of the vents. If the air coming from your vents is not cool, there may not be enough refrigerant to cool the air flowing into your home.
  3. Hissing or Gurgling Sounds Coming from the Indoor Unit – A refrigerant leak happens when there are cracks or holes in the coils through which the refrigerant circulates. A hissing noise—though it can be a sign of a number of problems—may indicate that refrigerant is leaking from the coils. If the leak is large, it may make a gurgling noise.
  4. Frozen Coils – The coils will not be able to efficiently absorb heat when they don’t have enough refrigerant flowing through them. As a result, condensation on the coils will freeze. This frozen condensation may melt and drip to the floor. So, a puddle around your indoor unit is also a sign of a refrigerant leak. If left unfixed, frozen coils can cause the system to breakdown and require costly repairs.
  5. High Utility Bills – Air conditioner inefficiency typically translates to high utility bills. When refrigerant levels are too low, your HVAC unit cannot efficiently cool air and must work a lot harder to keep up with your cooling needs. You are also likely to dial down your thermostat in the hope of getting cooler air. All of this uses more electricity and makes your utility bill higher than usual.

Call a Knoxville HVAC Company to Fix Your Refrigerant Leak

Some of these signs can be caused by a number of HVAC issues and not just refrigerant leaks. So, it’s best to call an experienced HVAC company to come take a look and see if the issue is a refrigerant leak or something else. City Heating and Air Conditioning is a trusted Knoxville HVAC company that has been serving East Tennessee for 60 years. Our experienced technicians provide quality HVAC repair, maintenance, and installation and serve each customer with honesty and integrity. We can find what the problem is and provide the best solution to get your home back to a comfortable temperature. For more information or to get a free quote, give us a call at 865-938-1005 or contact us online today.