If your central air system is no longer cooling as well as it used to, there are likely a wide variety of possible causes. Narrowing down the particular issue can be difficult, but it can often pay for you, as a homeowner, to have a reasonable idea of what the problem is before you call a pro in to solve it for you. If you have already ruled out easy do-it-yourself solutions such as resetting the unit, checking the thermostat, and cleaning or replacing the filter, then it's time to look into more serious problems. One potential issue that often plagues central air systems is low refrigerant.
What Is Refrigerant?
Refrigerant is a fluid (used in the technical sense—either a liquid or a gas in this case) which can readily absorb heat from the environment. As refrigerant cycles through the coils of the system, it transitions between a gas and a liquid, heating up and cooling down as a result of this phase change. Refrigerant is the key to making any air conditioning system work, and without it, your air conditioner certainly won't be delivering any cool air. Home air conditioning systems commonly use either Freon (also known as R-22) or Puron (R-410A). Freon is generally only found in older systems, and modern systems are making the transition to R-410A.
What Are the Symptoms of Low Refrigerant?
In general, your air conditioner will not simply stop blowing cold air altogether once the refrigerant gets low. Although this will ultimately be its fate if the problem is not addressed, there will usually be one or more symptoms that show up first and can act as warning signs. Keep an eye out for the following issues:
- Any unusual sounds from your AC unit, including a sound like air escaping or water running
- Obvious and loud gurgling noises
- A lack of airflow
Usually, these symptoms will also be accompanied by an obvious lack of cooling power. The system may still blow cold air, but it will seem weaker than usual. This can often translate to higher electricity bills as the system is forced to run for longer to reach an adequate temperature. Depending on how you keep your thermostat set, this may not be immediately apparent without feeling for the temperature of the air leaving the vents.
How to Address the Problem
It's easy to feel like the proper solution to low refrigerant is a top-up, but this is a band-aid that may not even resolve the symptoms for long. Properly functioning air conditioners are closed loops, which means that your refrigerant should not break down or escape over time. If your system is working as it should, then your refrigerant should never need to be replaced.
So, what's the problem? Unfortunately, the answer is almost always a leak. This will require a trained HVAC professional to properly locate and address. Once the leak has been fixed, your system can then be refilled. With refrigerant pressure back to where it should be and the leak resolved, your AC should go back to keeping your home cool and comfortable.
Contact an air conditioning contractor for assistance with your AC system today.