Can A Refrigerant Leak Destroy Your Air Conditioning System?

Replacing a central air conditioning system is not a project to undertake lightly. Installing a new central air conditioning system is an expensive project, with prices increasing alongside home sizes. The good news is that most central air conditioning systems will last many years, but this longevity requires proper care and maintenance.

While keeping up with routine maintenance is important, prompt repairs can also help extend the life of your system. Some issues may be minor, but they can cause more severe problems when left unaddressed. Keep reading to learn why refrigerant leaks fall into this category and how ignoring this critical repair may lead to more expensive problems for your air conditioning system.

Why Refrigerant Pressure Matters

Air conditioning systems use fairly complex and interesting physical processes to help cool your home. These systems achieve relatively good efficiency by transporting heat instead of "creating" cold air. An air conditioning system uses a refrigerant chemical to absorb heat from your home and transport it outside. Under normal circumstances, this chemical exists in a fully closed-loop system.

The refrigerant travels through the evaporator coil on the indoor side of the system. This coil transfers heat energy from your home's air to the refrigerant, which then carries it to the outdoor condenser coil that releases it into the atmosphere. The amount of heat the refrigerant can absorb depends primarily on the pressure in the evaporator coil, with less pressure leading to colder temperatures.

While you might think colder temperatures are better for AC systems, the temperature near the evaporator coil must remain above freezing. If the pressure inside the coil drops too low, condensation will begin to freeze on the coil surface. This ice acts as an insulator, which will eventually stop the evaporator from being capable of absorbing more heat.

How Refrigerant Leaks Damage Your System

A refrigerant leak will reduce system pressure, eventually reducing the refrigerant pressure inside the evaporator coil. As the pressure inside the coil drops, more ice will begin forming on the outside. A frozen evaporator coil will reduce system efficiency and create more humid air. Eventually, the coil will stop absorbing heat and your system will no longer work.

However, there may be some more serious outcomes. The refrigerant in the evaporator coil should vaporize as it absorbs heat. If too much ice is on the coil, the refrigerant may not vaporize, allowing liquid refrigerant to return to the compressor. This condition, known as "slugging," can cause serious damage by forcing an incompressible liquid into the compressor.

Since the compressor is the most expensive part of your air conditioning system, reducing its lifespan can reduce the overall lifespan of your air conditioner. The longer you leave a refrigerant leak unaddressed, the greater the likelihood of damage from slugging. Once you know your system is freezing up, it is imperative to contact an HVAC technician for repairs as soon as possible.

For more information, reach out to an air conditioning repair service near you.