Signs Your Air Conditioner is Low on Refrigerant

HVAC technician searching for a refrigerant leak on an evaporator coil

Over time, things can and often will go wrong with your air conditioner. One common malady occurs when your unit is low on refrigerant or coolant. If you can catch it early enough, your service technician may be able to fix it with minimal expense. How can you tell? The tips below will help.

What Is It?

First of all, it is important to understand that the refrigerant inside your air conditioner is a vital component. Its purpose is to be “super-cooled” so that as air passes over the coils in which it is contained, it becomes cold. If this refrigerant is low, it can impact not only your overall comfort, but also your energy bills – and in a big way. While regular maintenance is important for determining whether there’s a slow leak, there are three signs that can alert you to a more serious problem.

Unexplained High Energy Bills

Often, the first thing that will alert you to a serious problem is an increase in your energy bill. Chances are good that you might not even notice that your air conditioner is working harder to keep you comfortable until your energy company makes it apparent. Of course, you’ll want to rule out the obvious such as a rate increase, but if there’s nothing else that could be causing the spike in energy costs, and if it’s hot outside, then the AC is likely the culprit.

Trouble Maintaining Comfort Level

If the air that is coming from your vents doesn’t seem as cold as it once did, if it seems like it’s taking ages for your home to cool off, or even if you can’t get the temperature down to a comfortable level, then low coolant may be the problem. The coils in your air conditioner won’t get as cold as they should when there isn’t enough coolant in them, and this means that the air passing over them can’t get as cold as it did before. As such, your air conditioner is working much harder, but without fixing the leak and recharging the coolant, it won’t be able to get the job done.

Ice on the Outdoor Part of the Unit

Finally, the last big giveaway that your air conditioner is low on coolant is the formation of ice on the outside component known as the compressor. Whenever there isn’t enough refrigerant in the system, the pressure drops in the evaporator coil. This allows the temperature to drop at the same time, causing the coil to drop below freezing and develop what could be a thick sheet of ice – even if it’s 100 degrees outside. The humid air hits the below-freezing coil and condenses there, and the beads of water forming as a result freeze rather quickly. This continues over and over again until the unit is iced over.

While proper servicing and maintenance can certainly help you keep your air conditioner in top running condition, there are times when serious leaks can develop seemingly overnight. These signs will help you decide whether or not it’s time for a service call to get the leaks fixed and the coolant recharged.