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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 DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR
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
Refrigerant gas or liquid leaks: this article discusses how to repair refrigerant leaks in air conditioning and cooling systems, using as an example, repairing a leaky or damaged air conditioning the cooling coil (evaporator coil) in the air conditioning air handler unit. Our photo at page top shows the cooling coil in the attic air handler component of a central air conditioning system.
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If your air conditioning or heat pump system has lost its cooling capacity or won't start see REPAIR GUIDE for AIR CONDITIONERS.
See How to determine the cooling capacity of air conditioning equipment if the system seems to be working but is inadequate to cool your building.
Also see REFRIGERANTS & PIPING, see PRESSURE READINGS, COMPRESSOR, and A/C REFRIGERANT LEAK DETECTION for more details.and see REFRIGERANT PIPING & DISTANCES. Contact us to suggest text changes and additions and, if you wish, to receive online listing and credit for that contribution.
As we explain in our articles on lost cooling capacity or air conditioning systems or heat pumps that are not working (see AIR CONDITIONING & HEAT PUMP SYSTEMS), a refrigerant leak in your air conditioner or heat pump means that eventually it will just not produce cool air (during air conditioning) nor warm air (during heating if it's also a heat pump).
First we need an accurate diagnosis of the air conditioning problem. If your air conditioning or heat pump system has lost cooling (or heating) capacity, there can be various causes besides loss of the refrigerant in the system.
Should We Just Add Refrigerant Rather Than Finding and Fixing the Leak in our Air Conditioner or Heat Pump?
At HVAC school we were taught that some HVAC technicians, in the opinion of the instructor (and our own as well), like the idea of a "delivery route" business, coming around periodically to replace lost refrigerant. In our view in many circumstances this can be a questionable practice.
Air conditioners and heat pumps are designed as a closed, hermetically sealed system - they are not supposed to leak refrigerant, and refrigerant leaks are an abnormal condition. The refrigerant leak can be found and repaired.
If the technician was in a hurry, perhaps given many service call assignments, or if s/he didn't want to be hassled by a customer complaining over an "attempt convert a simple recharge to a costly service call", or if the company just likes to deliver refrigerant (lots of repeat business), or finally, if the system with the refrigerant leak is large, commercial, complex, and old - at end of life, s/he may not have mentioned that refrigerant leak repair is even possible.
If you are faced with a costly service call or repair on an old air conditioning system (such as the need to replace a corroded, leaky evaporator coil) on a system that is at or near end of life, it is understandable that you might just prefer to wait and replace the whole system.
But it is not air conditioner or heat pump system age that makes a refrigerant leak able to be found or not, it is system complexity. Sometimes, especially with large complex commercial systems, because tracing all of the piping and tubing and looking for leaks is time consuming, some people opt to just add refrigerant.
Just adding refrigerant is not the best practice. And with old freon-based cooling or heat pump systems such leaks might be illegal as you are damaging the environment and making a prohibited release of Freon gases to the air.
The refrigerant gauge set photo above is discussed in detail at GAUGE, REFRIGERATION PRESSURE TEST.
Guide to Evaluating Evaporator Coil or Condensing Coil Refrigerant Leaks and Deciding to Repair or Replace a Coil
Evaporator coil or cooling leaks or holes: if an evaporator coil is leaking (or also if the condensing coil is leaking) you'll find out pretty quickly as refrigerant will be lost and the cooling system will stop providing cool air.
Replacement of the cooling coil (or condensing coil) is more often going to be recommended by your HVAC technician because of these difficulties.
Clean Dust & Dirt Off of the Condensing Coil - Air conditioning and refrigeration performance &maintenance tip
As we also introduce at CONDENSING COIL REPAIR REPLACE, there is a big payoff in cleaning dust, debris, grass clippings off of a dirty refrigeration condensing coil (this includes outdoor condenser/compressor units for air conditioners and heat pumps and also the condensing coil on a home refrigerator or freezer).
Because a refrigeration system works by transferring heat from hot refrigeration gas/liquid to ambient air around the condensing coil, if the condenser coil is blocked by dirt and debris, this can prevent complete cooling of the high temperature refrigerant gas back to a liquid state.
The result is you'll get refrigerant gas bubbles passing through the refrigerant metering valve. On refrigeration systems that include a sight glass you can actually see these gas bubbles passing through the system.
More details are at REFRIGERANT SIGHT GLASS.
This oil pooling is not usually a consequential problem provided the collection of oil does not block passage of refrigerant in the system. In good HVACR design the refrigerant piping slopes back from the evaporator unit (cooling unit or air handler) towards the compressor/condenser unit so that refrigerant oil in the line finds its way back to the compressor motor.
Recharging the HVAC System after Refrigerant Leak Repair
In case you didn't realize it, in order to solder a repair in an air conditioner or heat pump piping, tubing, evaporator coil/cooling coil, or condensing coil, it will first be necessary to remove all of the refrigerant from the system.
The HVAC technician will connect a pump to pull a vacuum on the system to remove as much air, gas, debris, and moisture as possible. An evacuator pump is needed for this step. [We made our own vacuum pump using a particularly good performing Frigidaire rotary compressor retrieved from an abandoned antique refrigerator.]
The HVAC technician will probably want to install a refrigerant filter/drier (see our photo below) to remove any moisture that leaked into the system while it was open to the atmosphere, and perhaps she will install other filtration equipment on the system at this time. It's a good idea.
See GAUGE, REFRIGERATION PRESSURE TEST for details about the refrigerant charging procedure using a gauge set and charging cylinder or scale.
Installing a Refrigerant Drier / Debris Filter after Piping Work or System Evacuation/Re-charge
Watch out: good practice following work on refrigerant piping systems or system evacuation and recharging withn refrigerant includes the installation of a debris filter and refrigerant drier device.
Details are at REFRIGERANT DRIERS & FILTERS
Replacing an HVAC Cooling Coil or Evaporator Coil
If the decision is to replace the cooling coil or the evaporator coil, be sure that the new coil is the proper size and shape to match the condenser or evaporator unit itself. See ADDING A/C: RETROFIT SIZING for an example of a mismatch that means poor heating or heat pump system operation.
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