When it comes to air conditioning systems, refrigerant leaks are an important concern. A leak at some point might be inevitable when you have an older unit. In most cases, people don’t realize that there is even a problem until the AC system stops working completely for your Bay Area home or business. It’s vital to take swift action with help from an HVAC service professional because refrigerant leaks can lead to costly repairs, higher utility bills and, in some cases, expose you and your family to serious health risks. None of this is good, certainly not during times of high inflation and high food costs.
Causes of an AC Refrigerant Leak Broken Seals
If you're dealing with a refrigerant leak in an air conditioning system, chances are a broken seal or a puncture causes it. Broken seals can occur due to wear and tear, improper installation, or lack of maintenance. Leaks due to seal failure are usually more common because they can develop in areas that receive the most abuse—underneath the compressor or evaporator.
Bearing the brunt of the wear and tear of an air conditioning unit is its compressor. This metal device is responsible for compressing refrigerant gas into a high-pressure liquid form. It’s also encased in a hard plastic shell, which protects the device from outside elements like dust and moisture. Based on this, over time wear and tear can cause these two parts to separate from each other, resulting in leaks of both refrigerant gas and hot air—a dangerous situation that could lead to compressor failure.
Loose connections can happen at the point where a pipe connects to another pipe or where a pipe connects to a fitting or the fitting's valve. If any part of your HVAC system has loose connections, it could lead to a refrigerant leak. This includes leaks from an improperly sealed valve or pinhole leaks at tubing joints. No matter where the loose connection is on your AC system, it can severely affect your health and well-being.
Effects of a Refrigerant Leak Reduced HVAC Efficiency
As a significant HVAC system component, the AC unit works by circulating refrigerant through the air conditioner's coils. The refrigerant absorbs heat and cools your home by passing through the coils. With a leak in the system, the refrigerant will escape into the atmosphere and not do its job properly. A common symptom of an AC leak is a reduction in efficiency, which will lead to higher energy bills.
Adverse Environmental Impact
When a refrigerant leaks, it becomes a greenhouse gas that adds to the overall warming of our planet. The refrigerant is not flammable, but when released into the atmosphere, it can be broken down into hydrocarbons and chlorine. Hydrocarbons are volatile, and chlorine is toxic. Both gases contribute to air pollution, leading to issues such as smog formation, acid rain, and ozone depletion.
Some refrigerants are toxic and can pose a health hazard to individuals if they escape into indoor air. Health effects from inhalation exposure include eye, nose, and throat irritation, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and loss of coordination. High concentrations may cause headaches, drowsiness, weakness, confusion, loss of memory, or brain damage.
The Bottom Line
Preventing refrigerant leaks the first time will save you the hassle and the money of a return trip to fix it. Plus, if a refrigerant leak is left unrepaired long enough, cooling efficiency in your residential air conditioning system can be compromised. Taking a proactive approach to HVAC repair and maintenance and using proper inspection procedures can reduce your chances of experiencing leaks.