As we head toward the end of cooling season, it’s a good time to assess the performance of your air conditioner. It’s not necessarily something we think about every day of summer, but occasionally paying close attention to your system’s performance is key to the early detection of common problems such as refrigerant leaks.

Your air conditioner’s refrigerant is constantly under high pressure, and the lines that contain that refrigerant degrade over time. If your system springs a leak, the leak will need to be patched and your refrigerant will need to be recharged. Depending on the extent of the leak, recharging your system can be an expensive repair.

This is why annual air conditioning tune-ups are so important -- when inspections and pressure tests are routine, you can catch problems like refrigerant leaks at the earliest possible stage. But if you know the signs, you may also be able to catch a refrigerant leak if you’re between tune-ups. 

Here are six common signs of air conditioning refrigerant leaks:

Poor cooling. If your system suddenly can’t keep up during the hottest hours of the day, a refrigerant leak is among the most common causes.

Humid indoor air. Air conditioners dehumidify as they remove warm air from indoor spaces. When there’s a refrigerant leak, an air conditioner’s dehumidifying ability is just as compromised as its cooling ability.

Long cooling cycles. While you might not always notice that your air conditioner is lagging a few degrees behind your thermostat setting, the sound of air moving through your vents makes it easier to notice if cooling cycles are abnormally long. Longer cooling cycles are another sign of a possible refrigerant leak. 

Higher utility bills. If the symptoms described above escape your attention for an entire month, you may see a red flag in your next power bill. The inefficient cooling and longer cycles caused by low refrigerant also send your electric meter into overdrive.

Ice on evaporator coils. Some of the clearest telltale signs of a refrigerant leak can be observed on your outdoor air conditioning unit. If you can see frosty ice crystals forming on the evaporator coil during hot weather, it’s time to call for service.

Bubbling or hissing sound. If you can hear sounds like this coming from your outdoor unit while it isn’t running, it could be a sign of a significant refrigerant leak. 

Some refrigerant leaks can result from environmental damage or overdue maintenance, but even a well-maintained system will spring a leak on a long enough timeline. If your air conditioner starts leaking refrigerant due to old age, it may make financial sense to patch and recharge it just this once -- but that’s your warning sign to replace the system by next season. Ideally, annual air conditioning tune-ups will help you anticipate these problems so that you can plan for replacement before your refrigerant lines are compromised. 

If you think you may have a refrigerant leak, or if you urgently need a leak repaired, reach out to your local One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning.

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