An air conditioning system is a sealed unit, so it should never need a Freon charge unless there’s a leak. Most systems need Freon replacement anywhere from once every two to five years from a professional HVAC Contractor. The most significant exception to this rule is when a leak in the air conditioning system decreases the amount of refrigerant in an AC unit over time.
If you’ve never had to recharge the unit before, the leak is likely slow, and recharging the unit may get you through the summer. However, neglecting to fix the refrigerant leak is like knowing there’s a nail in your tire but just filling up the tire with more air instead of taking the nail out and fixing the hole. So, if you suspect a leak, it’s best to have it checked and repaired by a professional.
The lifespan of Freon in a typical AC system
Freon, a type of refrigerant, theoretically lasts forever in a closed system such as an air conditioning unit. This is because it is not consumed like fuel but continually recycled within the system to cool your home. However, as the AC tubing ages and wears out, it tends to develop leaks in the system. Factors like copper tubing damage, age, and constant use in harsh weather may gradually lose Freon in your AC system. Therefore, while Freon itself can last for the life of your AC unit, which is approximately 10-15 years, these factors can affect the actual lifespan of Freon in a typical AC system.
Why is my air conditioner constantly needing more Freon?
If your air conditioning system is low on vital refrigerant, it can’t absorb as much heat from your home. This could lead to an air conditioner that runs nonstop and never correctly cools. Freon isn’t ever “used up” like automobile gasoline. It’s just circulated around your air conditioning system to cool your air. A leak in the system is the only way a unit could lose Freon. If you believe there may be a leak, it’s best to call a trained technician to determine if your air conditioner needs more Freon. This is one reason a maintenance schedule is a great idea. A small investment in this plan can keep your air conditioning and HVAC systems healthy throughout the year.
Below are some signs that you may have an issue with your system: Your AC runs all day and there’s ice on your refrigerant lines- Walk outside and look at the refrigerant lines. Is ice on them? If so, this indicates a problem with your refrigerant levels. A hissing or bubbling noise- Most refrigerant leaks are silent because they’re small. If you notice your air conditioner making a hissing or bubbling noise when running, there is probably a leak.
What are the signs that an AC unit is low on Freon?
Here are some signs that your AC unit might be low on Freon:
- Frozen evaporator coil: A frozen evaporator coil is a classic symptom of low refrigerant in an AC.
- Frozen refrigerant suction line: If the line connecting to your AC is frozen, there’s a good chance your AC is low on refrigerant.
- Warm air blowing from your vents: If your AC unit outside is running, but cold air isn’t coming out, your AC might be low on refrigerant.
- Your AC runs much longer than usual: This could indicate that your AC is low on refrigerant.
- Hissing noise from your AC: A hissing or bubbling noise from your AC could indicate a Freon leak.
- The compressor has a low amp draw: This could indicate that your AC is low on refrigerant.
- The compressor won’t turn on: This could indicate your AC is low on refrigerant.
- Higher Energy Bills: When Freon levels are low, your AC has to work harder to cool your home. This increased effort leads to increased energy consumption and higher energy bills.
- Ice Buildup on the AC Unit: Ice or frost buildup on the AC unit, particularly on the evaporator coil, is a common sign of low Freon.
- Reduced Airflow: Low Freon levels can also reduce airflow from your AC vents.
If you notice any of these signs, it’s best to have your AC unit checked by a professional.
How do you check the Freon level in an air conditioner?
To check the Freon level in an air conditioner, you can follow these steps:
- Safety Considerations: Before you take any steps to check the Freon level, ensure you’re taking safety precautions. Shut off power to the AC unit using either the circuit breaker or fuse box before touching any part of it. Wear protective gloves and eyewear when handling anything related to the unit’s components, including checking for Freon levels.
- Gathering Materials Needed: Before attempting to check the Freon in your home air conditioner, gather the materials needed for the maintenance. You’ll need A test kit designed to check and analyze refrigerant levels, a set of protective goggles, and some gloves or other protective clothing.
- Preparing the Unit for Maintenance: Before learning how to check the freon in a home air conditioner, or examining the unit, ensure you shut off power to your air conditioner at both the thermostat and circuit breaker panel. Once these are deactivated, open up the access panel on your AC unit and locate the Schrader valve with a screwdriver or pry bar. Be careful not to damage any pipes or other exposed wires while opening this up.
- Measure the pressure: Use a Freon pressure gauge to check the pressure in line. If the pressure is low, hire a professional to add more Freon to the unit.
- Add Freon if needed: According to your air conditioner’s manual, add Freon if needed.
- Replace the access panel: After checking the Freon level and adding Freon if necessary, replace the access panel.
- Turn on your AC: Plug in and turn on your AC.
Please note that many places require the person buying and handling refrigerant to have an EPA license. If you do not have any HVAC background or experience, I would recommend not dealing with refrigerants, as that could end up causing more harm than good and potentially get you hurt as well. Another thing to note is that releasing refrigerant into the atmosphere is illegal and can be a heavy fine3. You can read more about that on the EPA website.
Understanding the frequency at which an AC unit needs Freon is critical for its efficiency and longevity. Ideally, your system shouldn’t need frequent recharges. If it does, it’s imperative to consult with an HVAC specialist to diagnose and rectify potential leaks or issues. Regular monitoring, timely repairs, and considering modern alternatives to Freon can ensure your AC system remains in top-notch condition, providing a cool and comfortable environment.
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