The most common question asked by many homeowners. Whether it's fixing an air conditioner that leaks, or a furnace for that matter, there are different causes and reasons why they leak.
AC units have a lot of different parts, but most indoor units are remarkably similar. Replacing something like an evaporator coil is not uncommon- these things often last for upwards of 10 years. This blog post will walk you through what to look out for if you think your AC unit has a leak somewhere and how much it may cost to have it fixed.
A little background on air conditioners and refrigerants
For an AC unit to work, gas must be used- this is called a refrigerant. If you've ever heard the word 'Freon,' that's just one brand of refrigerant. The most common type of AC unit today uses R-410A (there are other types as well, but that's all we'll discuss here). The refrigerant is what cools the air.
It works pretty simple: it travels in between two metal tubes- one inside of the other. These tubes are located within the AC unit and can easily be seen when opening the casing. The tubing inside is also copper or aluminum and is used to transport heat away from your AC unit.
To keep everything nice and cool while transporting heat, the refrigerant boils (or turns into a gas), just like water does when you boil it on a stovetop burner. It then travels between the two metal tubes, picks up heat, and becomes a liquid again.
How AC units lose refrigerant
It's possible for the tubing to get pinholes in it, so the refrigerant leaks out of your unit over time. If this happens when you're using your AC, you may notice that you are much warmer than usual, even though the outdoor temperature isn't that high.
Other times, you may notice that it sounds strange when you are running your AC unit, almost like a car engine misfiring. Suppose you live in an area with fluctuating temperatures during the summer (like many people do). In that case, they can cause the refrigerant to go low as well.
The most common reason for this is that the AC unit is older and needs to be replaced. Whenever you use your AC unit, it's running all of its components- the compressor, condenser coil/evaporator coil, and indoor fan- whenever you run it. When these parts are used every day for 10+ years, they wear out (not unlike a car part).
The best way to prevent this from happening is maintenance. Regularly check your refrigerant levels, and have a certified technician come out to inspect your AC unit. This will help keep everything in good working order.
Suppose there are leaks in an outdoor compressor or evaporator coil. In that case, it can cause low pressure (significantly when the temperature outside rises), which will cause your compressor to run more often. This can shorten the life of the compressor, and also make your AC unit less effective.
The most common symptom is that you'll be able to hear blowing or noise when the outside compressor isn't running. Some other things to look for are standing water around your condenser or inside your AC unit.
Suppose you're noticing any of these symptoms. In that case, it's always a good idea to have someone check things out for you so that you don't try and handle the problem improperly and cause more damage or, worse yet, get electrocuted.
It depends on what type of leak it is. A leak from the inside of an air conditioner or a leak from the outside?
Duct leaks: This is caused by a hole in one of your ducts, allowing cold air to come in and warm air to go out. A common cause for duct leakage is when people patch their own AC units before calling in a professional. This can more than double the cost of your ac repair, and we have seen some do-it-yourselfers that are so bad at patching duct leaks that they essentially put duct tape over their whole AC unit!
If you have a hole from the inside of your AC unit where you cannot see it, call your HVAC professional immediately.
If there is a hole from the outside of your AC unit where you cannot see it, first look at the condenser fan (the part that blows cool air into your home or office) and if it looks like something has burst through the side of it, call your HVAC company to come to take a look at it.
If not, make sure that the main power switch to your AC unit is turned off. Then if you can access the inside of your air conditioner, check for any signs of a puncture in either one of your ducts or any air handlers (if you have them).
If there is no evidence of a puncture, your air conditioner might be dirty inside. If so, it will need to have its filters and coils professionally cleaned, and the cost should not exceed $100.
Outside leak: This is usually caused by either a defective compressor or leaking freon. A good HVAC professional can tell what the problem is just by looking at it. The cost to fix a leak outside of an air conditioner can vary greatly depending on whether you only need freon or if your compressor needs to be replaced as well.
The average price to replace a leaking compressor is around $650. Still, the overall cost can easily get over $1,000 if any other parts need to be replaced.
If you need a new compressor, ensure that your HVAC company installs a higher SEER unit because the government will reimburse most of the cost in many states.
If you only need freon and/or if your AC was low on refrigerant before it started leaking (in other words, your air conditioner was probably low on freon before it started leaking), the cost of a liquid leak repair, including parts and labor, should not exceed $350.
To fix an AC leak outside, you will also need to take care of any loose wires or brackets around your outdoor unit. If they were still attached prior to the leak, they will likely be exposed by the hole and can shock you or cause a fire. Your HVAC company should have materials on hand to fix this free of charge.
If you think that you have a leak, look for some of these signs:
It's much louder than usual- especially when it is running. This is especially noticeable when you turn on your AC.
You can hear a whirring sound in the outdoor compressor, and it probably sounds like something is shaking inside the unit when you run it. The fan may also be running much louder than usual or even staying on (this depends on how fast the refrigerant leaks are happening).
The air coming out is hotter than usual -or- the unit is not cooling at all. Therefore, the air coming out should be cooler. Once you turn on your AC and start to feel warm air blowing out, there's a good chance that you have a leak. If there are no leaks, the heat transfer between the refrigerant and heat (coming from inside) should be more efficient.
If your AC is not running at all, there's a good chance that you have a leak as well. Whenever there are leaks, the entire system has to work harder because the refrigerant isn't working properly- and it takes more power to run the compressor. This will make your bills much higher than usual- and it can also shorten the life of your AC unit. Call an AC repair specialist today!