Question? Just ask us!
Free Encyclopedia of Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, Repair
InspectAPedia ® Home
AIR CONDITIONING & HEAT PUMP SYSTEMS
A/C - HEAT PUMP CONTROLS & SWITCHES
AIR CONDITIONER COMPONENT PARTS
AIR CONDITIONER TYPES, ENERGY SOURCES
AIR FILTER EFFICIENCY
AIR FILTERS, FIBERGLASS PARTICLES
AIR FLOW MEASUREMENT CFM
APPLIANCE EFFICIENCY RATINGS
BLOWER DOORS & AIR INFILTRATION
BLOWER FAN CONTINUOUS OPERATION
BLOWER FAN OPERATION & TESTING
BOOKSTORE - Air Conditioning "How To" Books
CAPACITORS for HARD STARTING MOTORS
CLEANING & Legionella BACTERIA
CHINESE DRYWALL HAZARDS
CONDENSATION or SWEATING PIPES, TANKS
DEFINITION of Heating & Cooling Terms
DEW POINT CALCULATION for WALLS
DEW POINT TABLE - CONDENSATION POINT GUIDE
DIAGNOSTIC GUIDES A/C / HEAT PUMP
DIAGNOSE & FIX HEATING PROBLEMS-BOILER
DIAGNOSE & FIX HEATING PROBLEMS-FURNACE
DUCTS - Asbestos
DUCT INSULATION, Asbestos Paper
DUCT INSULATION for SOUNDPROOFING
DUCT SYSTEM & DUCT DEFECTS
DUCT SYSTEM NOISES
DUCTS, Asbestos Transite Pipe
DUST, HVAC CONTAMINATION STUDY
ELECTRIC MOTOR OVERLOAD RESET SWITCH
EVAPORATIVE COOLING SYSTEMS
FAN LIMIT SWITCH
GAS EXPOSURE EFFECTS, TOXIC
GAS DETECTION INSTRUMENTS
HEAT LOSS (or GAIN) in buildings
HEAT LOSS (or GAIN) INDICATORS
HEAT LOSS R U & K VALUE CALCULATION
HEATING SMALL LOADS
INSPECTION CHECKLIST - OUTDOOR UNIT
INSPECTION LIMITATIONS, A/C SYSTEMS
LEED GREEN BUILDING CERTIFICATION
LOST COOLING CAPACITY
LOW VOLTAGE TRANSFORMER TEST
MOTOR OVERLOAD RESET SWITCH
MOLD in AIR HANDLERS & DUCT WORK
OPERATING COST, AIR CONDITIONER
OPERATING DEFECTS, AIR CONDITIONING
REPAIR GUIDES A/C / HEAT PUMP
REPAIR & DIAGNOSTIC FAQs for A/C
THERMOSTATS, HEATING / COOLING
THERMOSTATIC EXPANSION VALVES
WATER COOLED AIR CONDITIONERS
WINDOW / WALL AIR CONDITIONERS
WINDOW / WALL A/C SUPPORTS
Adding or replacing air conditioner or heat pump refrigerant: this article describes the procedures for charging an air conditioner, heat pump, refrigerator, freezer, or similar equipment - how does an HVAC service tech put the proper amount of refrigerant into the system? We describe use of a traditional charging cylinder, vaporizing connectors for low-side charging, and modern refrigerant recovery, charging, and vacuum equipment.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2013 InspectAPedia.com, All Rights Reserved.
Evacuating The Refrigeration System Before Charging
As we've explained, charging an empty system will require evacuating it first. For a typical household equipment this takes about 15 minutes but for a larger commercial refrigeration system this process can take an hour.
On residential equipment we always leave our evacuator pump running for at least 1/2 hour to be sure we've evacuated as much moisture and contaminants as possible.
On commercial systems being installed or having major service it would be preferable to leave the evacuator pump running for 12 hours - the longer you evacuate the system the cleaner it will be. That's because as the system warms up moisture in the system will vaporize further and thus be removed.
Low Side Refrigerant Charging
Low side charging is also referred to as vapor charging - that is we allow ONLY refrigerant vapor or gas to enter the system.
This is an easy but time consuming method of system charging. The canister supplying refrigerant is connected to the gauge service port and opened, and the HVAC equipment or appliance is run (which pumps refrigerant gas from the supply source in parallel with pumping from the outlet of the evaporator coil).
The refrigerant canister is kept upright so that only gas leaves the canister.
High Side Refrigerant Charging
When charging an air conditioner, heat pump, or refrigeration appliance from the high side, the system being serviced is turned OFF. The refrigerant gas canister is placed upside down so that only pure liquid refrigerant leaves the canister.
Note that once you start the system running you will not be able to charge on the high side because the head pressure out of the compressor will be higher than the evaporation pressure in the canister - it would push refrigerant back into the canister.
With critically-charged HVAC or appliance refrigeration systems, such as a household refrigerator or air conditioner, you must measure the refrigerant entering the system. Typically the technician uses a scale that registers in ounces to measure a weighed charge, though we also used other devices such as a charging cylinder that actually shows the volume of liquid refrigerant in the cylinder on a temperature-compensating scale.
A charging board (or charging cylinder just mentioned) that is connected to the high side can accurately measure the liquid refrigerant charge going into the system. In this case the charging board (Dial-a-Charge charging cylinder produced by Robinaire, Montpelier OH) is loaded with the proper refrigerant charge from the gas cylinder, and the outlet from the charging board is then connected into the high side (perhaps through the gauge service port).
A Vaporizing Connector is an accessory you can add to a charging cylinder or charging board. The refrigerant vaporizing connector (such as Imperial's Kwik-Charge, assures that liquid refrigerant passing through the device will convert to gas as it exits the device. This will let you add a measured refrigerant charge to the low side of the system while still making an accurate measurement of the refrigerant measured in ounces.
Liquid refrigerant charging is always faster than low side vapor charging. On the low side you have to charge, then wait for the system pressures to balance, then reexamine the frost line etc.
An alternative to measuring the refrigerant charge when charging air conditioners or heat pumps
As an alternative to making refrigerant measurements by weight or temperature-corrected volume using a scale or charging cylinder, some HVAC service technicians may adjust the refrigerant charge by watching the low side pressure and the exact location of the frost line at the evaporator coil (blower fan not running).
Watch out: do not overcharge or extend the frost line to the compressor or you risk sending liquid refrigerant into the compressor motor - assuring its damage or destruction.
Guessing at Refrigerant Charge Level by Watching the Sight Glass or Listening for Refrigerant Gurgling
On small refrigeration systems such as a home refrigerator or window air conditioner the refrigerant charge needs to be accurately measured or the system will not work properly. But on larger HVACR systems and on commercial units that use a liquid refrigerant receiver (a sort of buffer that stores extra liquid refrigerant), you might find a sight glass on the refrigerant piping downstream from the condensing coil.
Some techs add refrigerant while watching that sight glass, adding refrigerant until the gas bubbles just stop. If you see bubbles there either the system is badly contaminated or more likely the refrigerant charge is short. We warned just above - don't overcharge the system - you can damage the equipment.
Technical Note: if you see bubbles in the sight glass, or if you hear gurgling in the refrigerant lines indeed those can be indicators that the refrigerant charge in the system is low.
Pulling a vacuum to evacuate refrigeration systems
Note that a reading of "zero" on these pressure gauges is not really zero, it's 14 psi or 1 atmosphere.
Also if you look closely at your gauges you 'll see that one permits pressure readings in the "negative" direction - used when pulling a vacuum on the system using an evacuator pump - a step necessary before charging a system that has been opened for service or repair.
To remove all moisture or refrigerant from an air conditioner, heat pump, refrigerator, or other refrigeration equipment your evacuator pump needs therefore to pump past "zero" on the gauge (14 psi) to absolute zero or 29.9" Hg vacuum.
The evacuator pump is attached to the center port or "service port" on the gauge set.
Current refrigeration service standards
Charging cylinders such as the 1980's vintage equipment described below are often supplanted now (2011) by refrigerant charging scales and by larger, more sophisticated refrigerant charging machines that combine refrigerant charge measurement, refrigerant evacuation and recovery/recycling, and other service functions.
Newer refrigeration service equipment can automatically recover refrigerant (such as R134A) from a system to be serviced, vacuum test and clean the system to prepare it for a charge, leak test the system, and insert the proper refrigerant charge, all automatically.
These improved refrigeration management functions were required by a combination of legislation and standards that stop the discharge of refrigerants into the environment, and by improvements in refrigeration system design that produced equipment that uses a smaller, but more precisely-measured charge of refrigerant.
Quoting from Robinair's description of their current refrigerant management equipment line:
How traditional Charging Cylinder Worked to Put a Measured Refrigerant Charge into Refrigeration Equipment
While the new refrigeration system testing and charging equipment described above is fully automatic, to understand the problems that the newer equipment has to solve (and automate), it is useful to review how, traditionally, we inserted a precisely measured refrigerant charge into air conditioners and other refrigeration equipment.
We used the Robinair® Dial-a-Charge® charging cylinder for many years as a way to install an accurate charge of refrigerant into air conditioners, heat pumps, and refrigerators and freezers undergoing service or repair. As an aid to service technicians who may have lost their instruction sheet we include and comment on the charging cylinder instructions here, using the Robinaire® Dial-a-Charge charging cylinder system as an example.
Robinair offered the following explanation of charging cylinder use along with our 1980's vintage equipment.
With an increase in temperature in any cylinder filled with refrigerant, there is a corresponding increase in pressure and a change in the volume of liquid refrigerant in the cylinder. To measure out an accurate charge by weight from a cylinder using the liquid level in a sight glass as a point of measurement, it is absolutely necessary to compensate for liquid volume variations caused by temperature variations. These temperature variations are directly related to pressure variations and accurate measurements by weight can be calibrated in relation to pressure.
The Dial-a-Charge Charging Cylinder is designed to meter out a desired amount of a specific refrigerant by weight. Compensation for temperature variations is accomplished by reading the pressure on the gauge of the cylinder and dialing the plastic shroud, with the calibrated chart, to the corresponding pressure reading for the refrigerant being used.
When charging a refrigeration or air-conditioning system with refrigerant, often the pressure in the system reaches a point where it is equal to the pressure in the [charging] cylinder from which the system is being charged. In order to get more refrigerant into the system to complete the charge, heat must be applied to the cylinder.
Robinair's Heated Dial-a-Charge Charging Cylinder eliminates the problem caused by equalization of pressure between the cylinder and the system being charged. The [Robinaire] charging cylinder has a heating element installed in the base of the cylinder. The male plug of the heating element can be plugged into any 110-115 volt AC outlet. [Note that if you want to charge the system on the low side using vapor only, you can safely do so using a refrigerant vaporizer attachment instead of heat to assure that no liquid goes where it's not wanted.]
Due to the variety of 220V. receptacles throughout the world, a male plug must be field-added to the 220V heating element in order to fit the particular style in your area [outside the U.S., Canada, Mexico]. Either voltage heating element will work on 50 or 60 Hz power.
Watch out: CAUTION: Heating elements can be destroyed if plugged into an electrical outlet when the [charging] cylinder is empty [of refrigerant].
The heating element is of the correct wattage to increase [refrigerant] pressure sufficiently in a relatively short time, to a level that is above the equalization pressure between the cylinder and the system [being charged]. The higher the pressure in the cylinder, the less time it takes to force the refrigerant into the system.
The heating element should be turned off before the pressure is above the highest pressure on the Dial-a-Charge® shroud of the refrigerant being used. EXAMPLE: Refrigerant R22 is being used - the pressure at no time should exceed 230 psi.
The Robinair Dial-a-Charge® has a relief valve, for added protection, set to relieve the refrigerant at approximately 320 psi.- 
Procedure for Filling & Using a Refrigerant Charging Cylinder - Using the Refrigerant Line Sight Glass
Carson Dunlop Associates' sketch illustrates a very simple check that can indicate a problem with an air conditioner, heat pump, or other refrigeration equipment: visible gas bubbles seen in the sight glass. The sight glass, if present, is usually located in the condenser unit on the liquid refrigerant line.
Watch out: CAUTION: When working with refrigerants, goggles should always be worn. Contact with refrigerants may cause injury.
Using a Refrigerant Vaporizing Connector for Low-Side Refrigerant Charging: Imperial Kwik-Charge as example
As we introduced above at Measuring the Refrigerant Charge, a vaporizing connector is an accessory connected to the refrigerant canister, refrigerant gauge set, to a charging cylinder or charging board to provide a safe, fast way of low-side refrigerant charging without any risk of slugging the air conditioning compressor with liquid refrigerant - an event likely to damage the compressor.
The refrigerant vaporizing connector (such as Imperial's Kwik-Charge illustrated here), converts liquid refrigerant to a gas as the refrigerant flows through the vaporizing device, thus making sure that liquid refrigerant passing through the device will convert to gas as it exits the device. This will let you add a measured refrigerant charge to the low side of the system while still making an accurate measurement of the refrigerant measured in ounces.
Vaporizing Connector Description
Advantages of using a vaporizing connector for low-side charging of air conditioning, heat pump, and other refrigeration systems
[Quoting and paraphrasing],
This device provides fast, safe refrigerant charging when using tracing dye [or not] with these properties:
Instructions for using the Kwik Charge liquid low-side charger for air conditioning and refrigeration systems
Watch out: CAUTION: a minimum hose length of three feet should be maintained between the Kwik-Charge and the low side charging port on the refrigeration system. Be sure to observe all safety practices regarding handling of refrigerants, including the wearing of eye protection.
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
No FAQs have been posted for this page. Try the search box below or CONTACT US by email if you cannot find the answer you need at InspectApedia.
Questions & answers or comments about air conditioner & heat pump compressor/condenser unit fans: condenser fan troubleshooting.
Ask a Question or Enter Search Terms in the InspectApedia search box just below.
Technical Reviewers & References
Related Topics, found near the top of this page suggest articles closely related to this one.