How Do AC Refrigerant Leaks Start?

Close up of copper pipes agains a white wall, AC refrigerant leaks

One of the most common troubles that can affect a central air conditioning system is the refrigerant leak. Our technicians often answer repair calls for air conditioners that aren’t working right and discover that the fault comes from refrigerant leaking from the system. The big problem with losing refrigerant is that an air conditioning system is designed to operate at a specific amount of refrigerant (known as its charge). If it declines, the air conditioner will lose cooling power and eventually the compressor will suffer from permanent damage.

Why do these leaks start in the first place? Are there any steps you can take to prevent this?

The Three Big Causes of Refrigerant Leaks

Almost all refrigerant leaks come from three basic causes:

Improper installation

We emphasize this point often: you must have an air conditioning system installed by a licensed HVAC professional. If your AC was installed by amateurs, many things can go wrong with it. When an air conditioner is installed, the technician puts the refrigerant charge into it. An untrained technician may end up putting in too little (or sometimes too much) refrigerant into the AC, leading to trouble in the future.

Factory fault

Although HVAC manufacturers have high standards for construction, errors can still occur at the factory. Around 2% of air conditioning units leave the factory with a defect of some kind, such as a connection on the refrigerant lines that will eventually shake loose. Fortunately, this is why you have a warranty! Remember to schedule annual maintenance from professionals to keep the warranty in force.

Formicary corrosion

This is the main cause of leaking refrigerant, a type of corrosion that can affect copper, which is otherwise corrosion resistant. Formicary corrosion occurs because of a reaction between the copper of the refrigerant lines and chemicals in the air, specifically formaldehyde. It weakens copper enough to allow for tiny pinhole leaks—but they are enough to cause gaseous refrigerant to escape. The affects of formicary corrosion usually affect an AC that’s older than five years.

Leak Prevention

You may have noticed that there isn’t much you can do to prevent refrigerant leaks. A warranty will protect you from a factory fault. Hiring a licensed professional for installation makes an undercharged system unlikely. It’s difficult to remove the chemicals that cause formicary corrosion from the air.

So your best defense is the same prevention technique for other air conditioning malfunctions: keep up with annual air conditioning maintenance. One of the most important steps our technicians take during AC maintenance is checking refrigerant pressure to see if there’s been any drop. We also check for the development of corrosion along the lines.

Whatever is wrong that’s affecting your cooling, you can trust any air conditioning repair in Harvard, MA to us. We’ve been trusted with these jobs for more than 30 years. We get the job done right the first time so you can go back to relaxing in cool comfort.

Basnett Plumbing, Heating & AC has provided service In The MetroWest Area Since 1987. Call us for air conditioning repairs today.

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Call us at 978-431-2906!