Using Fluorescence to Detect Refrigerant Leaks

If you’ve ever paid attention to an HVAC technician who is trying to locate the sources of refrigerant leaks, you’ve probably seen the tried-and-true, decades-old method that involves spraying soapy water across refrigerant lines. When the soap hits the area where refrigerant is leaking, it will form noticeable bubbles. However, things have certainly changed, and more HVAC companies are using fluorescence to detect refrigerant leaks.

How Big of an Impact do Refrigerant Leaks Really Make?

Even though the US has required a shift to more environmentally-friendly refrigerants, the truth is that the sheer amount of money being lost into the atmosphere is mind-boggling. The RECS, or Residential Energy Consumption Survey, which helps to pinpoint how much money consumers spend on energy, found that 87% of all homes in the US (roughly 100 million homes) have air conditioning. Consumers are spending $11 billion a year to power those air conditioners. With the knowledge that refrigerant leaks are the top cause of efficiency loss, the amount of money consumers could save with quick detection and repair is significant.

What’s Wrong with the Old Method?

Although HVAC techs and homeowners alike have used soapy water to detect refrigerant leaks and gas leaks for decades, the truth is that this method isn’t very reliable. Failing to add enough soap to the water, or failing to spray even a tiny section of a refrigerant line may cause an HVAC tech to completely miss a leak, which decreases efficiency and increases homeowners’ energy bills. This also means you’ll end up spending more money on refrigerant and service calls in the long run, too.

Why Fluorescent Technology is Better

Fluorescent leak detection is far superior to the older soap bubble method because it’s far simpler to see the issue. Think of it like adding food coloring to water to make it more visible. Fluorescent additives go directly into the refrigerant, and after circulating for a few minutes, the HVAC tech can use ultraviolet light to easily find streams of refrigerant that are escaping. This means there’s far less work involved because refrigerant leaks are easier to find, and there’s a much higher chance that you’ll get your issue repaired correctly the first time around.

Are There Any Risks?

There has been some debate as to whether the addition of fluorescent chemicals is harmful to your HVAC system, and while it’s true that the addition of those chemicals may void your system’s warranty, things are changing. Nowadays, many manufacturers have approved the use of fluorescent leak detection, but only if certain brands are used in those systems. It’s important to hire a professional who can find out which product to use in order to keep your warranty in place. Better yet, contact the manufacturer directly and ask them for a list of approved products.

While soap bubbles have been used for years to find refrigerant leaks, fluorescent compounds are far better. They allow for faster, more precise detection of leaks, which saves homeowners a huge amount of money each year, collectively. Ask your HVAC tech about fluorescent leak detection during your next maintenance visit.