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Collier's Heating & Air Conditioning Blog

When Does the Refrigerant in the AC Need to Be Topped Off?


Here’s a question we often hear from homeowners who want to be sure they’re air conditioning systems work at their best: “When will I need to have the refrigerant in the AC topped off?”

The answer is: “Hopefully, never.” If an air conditioning system doesn’t suffer from problems with refrigerant leaks, it won’t ever need to have any additional refrigerant put into it. Adding refrigerant isn’t a maintenance task, but a repair issue. We’ll go into more details below.

Refrigerant Is Not a Fuel

The reason people often make the assumption that refrigerant has to be topped off or refilled on a regular basis is because they’re mistaking refrigerant for fuel. Refrigerant isn’t like the gasoline in a car, however. It’s more like the oil, although even that’s not fully accurate since oil degrades and needs to be changed regularly.

Refrigerant’s job in an AC is as a heat transfer medium. The air conditioner doesn’t use the refrigerant for power. It uses its actual power source—electricity—to place refrigerant under pressure so it will circulate through the system. The refrigerant moves through a process of evaporating and condensing: it evaporates in the indoor coil to draw heat out of the air and condenses in the outdoor coil to release the air. As the refrigerant switches between liquid and gaseous states, it doesn’t dissipate or get “used up.” An air conditioner should run on the same amount of refrigerant, known as the AC’s charge, for its entire service life.

Refrigerant Loss

Unfortunately, an air conditioning system can lose refrigerant because of leaks along the copper lines. This is the only way that an AC can see a drop in its refrigerant charge. When this happens, HVAC technicians must do two things: 1) stop the refrigerant loss by sealing the leaks, and 2) recharge the refrigerant to its factory level.

A loss of refrigerant is a serious problem. It not only means a drop in the air conditioner’s cooling power since it can’t move as much heat outdoors. It will also cause catastrophic damage to the compressor, leading to a complete system breakdown. If you notice your AC is not performing as well as it should, or you notice other warning signs such as a hissing sound from the system or ice appearing along the evaporator coil, call for repair technicians right away. It’s crucial to have experienced professionals on the job to locate the leaks as well as ensure that the correct amount of refrigerant is recharged. (Too much refrigerant in an AC can create as many problems as too little.)

An R-22 Reminder

If you have an AC installed earlier than 2010, it may use a refrigerant blend known as R-22 (aka “Freon,” although this is actually a brand name). R-22 is being phased out and will no longer be available for repairs in 2020. We recommend upgrading to a new system that uses R-410A as soon as you can.

When you notice a decline in cooling in your home and suspect you need AC repair in Warsaw, IN, never hesitate to get in touch with us. We have 24/7 emergency service to rescue your air conditioning system from whatever problems are affecting it.

Call us for AC repairs at any time of the day or night. Collier’s Heating & Air Conditioning: A company you’ve grown to trust for over 30 years.

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