Freon, a popular refrigerant preferred for its reliability, runs throughout the system to take out the heat and bring blow cold air on a hot summer day. But since your AC might leak refrigerant, how do you know when to recharge your unit with Freon?
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Freon lasts throughout the life of your AC unit, which is approximately 10-15 years. In theory, Freon should last forever in a closed system such as your AC’s circulation. However, copper tubing damage, age, and constant use in harsh weather may lead to a gradual loss of Freon in your AC system.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss how long Freon typically lasts in a home air conditioner, what causes leaks, and what you can do to prolong its lifespan.
Why Freon Lasts So Long in Home AC Units?
Freon belongs to a class of substances called hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) that were – and still are – widely used in various applications, including home air conditioners. These refrigerants are known for their stability and long lifespan.
Freon lasts so long in home AC units since they have a closed system. It is not consumed like fuel. Instead, the refrigerant is compressed and decompressed to uptake heat from your home and release it to the environment.
The refrigerant remains in your AC unit and can be used indefinitely, so long as the components of the AC itself are in good working order. This longevity is why HCFCs were the preferred refrigerant. However, HCFCs are also known for depleting the ozone layer, leading to their phase-out by the EPA in 2020.
That means no Freon will be produced or imported. While Freon is no longer used in new AC units, you can still find it in many older units.
While Freon itself can be used in the AC unit for many years, the components of your unit start breaking down over time. The breakdowns cause leakages of Freon, which is extremely dangerous for the environment and is part of why it is being phased out.
How Your AC Unit Leaks Freon?
Freon runs inside copper tubing behind your unit. It undergoes a series of repeated actions.
- Compression by the compressor,
- Expansion in the expansion valve,
- Condensation at the condenser coils, and
- Evaporation in the evaporator coils.
The Freon is kept under varying pressure levels to absorb more heat from your space and evaporate, condense and dump heat to the outside environment. Over time, your AC unit starts to wear out, and the Freon in the copper tubing starts to leak out.
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Here are common reasons why your AC unit starts to leak Freon.
- Formic acid in the AC gradually erodes the copper tubes.
- The gaskets and valves in your AC unit can wear out over time, allowing Freon to escape.
- Gradual wear and tear of the AC unit. AC units last anywhere between 10-20 years when well maintained.
- A crack in the AC unit coils can cause Freon to leak out, usually caused by damage to the copper tubing.
Damage to the copper tubing can arise from manufacturing errors and user factors. Factory errors arise when the copper tubing in your AC doesn’t meet the quality standards.
A closer inspection of such errors would reveal the following.
- The copper underwent heating, bending, welding, and cooling in manufacturing. These activities can lead to overstretching of the resulting copper tube, which could be flawed with cracks, scratches, and multiple weak points.
- The copper tubes did not pass the eddy current inspection. Simply put, the eddy current inspection is one of the most widely used quality assessment practices that checks the condition and lifespan of copper tubes. The test should detect corrosion, cracks, dents, and other defects on copper tube interior and exterior surfaces.
User factors take effect in the user’s environment. For instance, if you live in a hot climate, your AC will have to work harder to keep your home cool. Over time, this constant action wears out the copper tubing and other components.
Additionally, frequent AC unit repairs may expose it to higher damage risks. When maintenance specialists use brute force to access internal components through stubborn access panels, they may accidentally hit the copper tubes and weaken their integrity.
Read: Does Freon Gas Smell?
Signs That Your AC Unit Is Leaking Freon
When your AC unit starts to leak, you may not notice it immediately. You may also notice a faint, sweet smell near your AC unit.
Other than the smell, there are ways to tell that your unit’s refrigerant is leaking.
- First, check the coils on the unit. If they are covered in ice or frost, it may indicate that Freon levels are low.
- You should also listen for strange hissing or bubbling noises from the unit, as this can be another sign of a Freon leak.
- Watch out for reduced cooling performance and decreased efficiency. Check your Freon levels if you’re paying higher energy bills and can’t identify any other reasons for the increase.
If you notice signs of Freon leaking, contact a repair professional immediately. They will be able to pinpoint the source of the leak and make the necessary repairs. They will also recharge the system.
In most cases, it is necessary to repair or replace AC unit parts completely to prevent extra spending on leaking equipment.
How To Prevent Freon Leaking From Your AC?
Freon is essential to any air conditioning system, but a leak can be disastrous. Not only will it cause your AC to stop working efficiently, but it can also harm the environment. Furthermore, Freon is extremely dangerous and toxic to the human body.
Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to prevent Freon from leaking:
- First, ensure that all the seals on your AC unit are intact and free of cracks or damage.
- Second, check the evaporator coil for any signs of corrosion or leaks. If you find any, you’ll need to have the coil replaced.
- Finally, have your AC unit serviced by a qualified technician at least once a year.
In addition to regular maintenance, check and replace filters regularly to remove dust and debris that could be crippling the system’s performance.
In some cases, replacing the unit may be cheaper than repairing it for the same old Freon leakage issue. Freon refills cost a minimum of $100 on average and can go as high as $600 for larger units.
Additionally, as discussed earlier, repetitive repairs can make the copper tubes more vulnerable to leakages, so the simplest solution is to replace the entire AC unit. You’ll save yourself the trouble of constantly calling in maintenance professionals and won’t have to risk your health.
With regular maintenance, you can maximize the lifespan of your refrigerant and keep the unit blowing cool air for the next few summers.
If you have any questions about maintaining or replacing the Freon in your home A/C unit, contact an HVAC professional immediately. Freon leaks can be hazardous to your health, so ensure that you address any signs of leakage as soon as possible.