Decoding the Signs of Low Refrigerant

low refrigerantIn your central air conditioner, a low refrigerant level can masquerade as a variety of cooling system symptoms. Refrigerant is the chemical that converts from a hot liquid to a frigid vapor and back again as it circulates through an A/C, extracting heat indoors and releasing it outdoors. Low refrigerant levels often produce only minor warning signs at first, but inevitably become a major issue.

Signs of Low Refrigerant

Here are some indicators of insufficient refrigerant:

  • Cooling performance declines. The air conditioner runs longer, struggling to achieve the temperature setting on the thermostat. As the refrigerant level continues to drop, the air conditioner may run almost non-stop without cooling the house adequately.
  • Humidity rises.  Because efficient humidity extraction at the evaporator coil relies on adequate refrigerant circulating through the coil, low levels often result in higher humidity and a generally damp, muggy indoor environment.
  • Increasing cooling costs. An air conditioner running long cycles to compensate for insufficient refrigerant uses excess electricity. You may notice the increase in your monthly bills, but not immediately identify that the cause is low refrigerant.
  • Ice on the evaporator coil. When the refrigerant level isn’t sufficient to effectively extract heat from the air, the evaporator coil may become overly cold causing condensation may freeze. Eventually, coil passageways will become totally blocked by ice, obstructing airflow. This condition strains the system compressor and may cause that critical component to fail.
  • Automatic shutdown. Some air conditioners have a safety feature that shuts down the system to prevent serious damage due to insufficient refrigerant.  If the system shuts off unexpectedly soon after starting, refrigerant loss may be triggering this automatic protection feature.

Resolving Low Refrigerant

Air conditioners don’t “use up” refrigerant. If the level drops, there’s usually a leak somewhere. Detecting the leak and making a permanent repair requires the specialized equipment and training provided by a qualified local HVAC contractor. After the leak is repaired, the refrigerant charge can be brought back up to manufacturer’s specs.

For professional expertise to diagnose and repair low refrigerant issues, contact Paitson Bros., at your service in Terre Haute since 1922.

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