Low Refrigerant? Here’s How You Can Tell

low refrigerant

Low refrigerant in your central air conditioner gradually reduces cooling performance and efficiency.

Initially, the symptoms may be vague and perhaps contradictory. However, one thing’s for sure: continuing to operate a central A/C when refrigerant levels are below manufacturer’s specifications not only causes higher operating costs and makes the house less comfortable, it may eventually inflict irreparable damage to critical components like the compressor, the most expensive component in the system. That’s probably why refrigerant is considered the “lifeblood of air conditioning.”

Symptoms of Low Refrigerant

  • Diminishing cooling performance. You notice your air conditioner runs longer and longer cycles to maintain standard thermostat settings. Eventually, the unit will run almost continuously. Still, the home seems increasingly uncomfortable.
  • Higher operating costs. Extended cycles cause monthly bills to rise, as well, since the unit’s consuming excess electricity.  If there’s no other obvious cause for increased cooling costs, suspect a refrigerant issue.
  • Increased indoor humidity. Refrigerant plays another role in the cooling process. Circulating through the indoor evaporator coil, it facilitates extraction of water vapor from household air. If the refrigerant level’s too low, your house may feel humid.
  • Coil icing. Low refrigerant makes the A/C evaporator coil extract heat from the air less efficiently. This causes the coil temperature to initially drop into the freezing range. Coil condensation turns to ice which eventually completely obstructs airflow through the coil. This, in turn, can damage the system compressor.
  • System shutdown. Many central air conditioners incorporate a safety feature that automatically turns off the unit to prevent severe damage due to low refrigerant. If the A/C shuts down for no apparent reason, insufficient refrigerant may be the cause.

What To Do

Air conditioners don’t consume refrigerant. Therefore, if the level is low, it’s nearly always the result of a small leak somewhere in the system. A qualified HVAC contractor has the specialized equipment and expertise to pinpoint the leak, repair it, and restore the refrigerant level to manufacturer’s specs.

Contact the service professionals at CCAC to diagnose and repair potential low refrigerant issues in your central air conditioner.

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    David Mathewst David Mathews is the owner of CCAC Air Conditioning and Heating. A Corpus Christi native... More »