Have you ever seen those roadside advertisements to recharge your car's AC system? Many shops sell these top-ups as a relatively cheap service, offering drivers with sweltering vehicles a chance to get some relief. Since your home's AC system is similar to those in cars, you may wonder if your central air conditioning system also requires periodic top-ups.
The answer isn't as straightforward as you might think! To understand why regular refrigerant top-ups are often unnecessary and even counterproductive, you'll need to learn how the refrigerant cycle works and why a low refrigerant condition often points to a more substantial problem.
Closed Loops and the Refrigerant Cycle
The refrigerant cycle refers to transferring heat from inside your home to the ambient environment utilizing a chemical known as refrigerant. The exact type of refrigerant used has varied through the years, and you may have seen them go by names such as R22, R12, or R134a. These substances all share relatively similar properties that make them useful in cooling systems.
The normal refrigerant cycle works by allowing cool, liquid refrigerant to absorb heat. As the refrigerant takes on this energy, it transforms into hot vapor. Your system then compresses this vapor into a high-pressure gas, allowing it to release its heat, revert to a liquid, and resume the process again. Every part of the system relies on maintaining a relatively exact pressure level.
You may have also noticed something about this description: nothing in the system "uses up" refrigerant. The same refrigerant loops through the system each time without appreciable loss. In other words, a residential air conditioning system that's functioning properly never needs new refrigerant, making routine recharges an unnecessary procedure.
Leaks, Recharges, and Routine Service Visits
While your system shouldn't require routine recharges, it may occasionally lose pressure. This situation can occur if leaks develop in your line set or one of the system components. In these cases, the refrigerant will slowly leak out, reducing system pressure and resulting in poor operation. Very low pressure can also stress your compressor and damage this expensive component.
Routine service visits are one of the best ways to avoid allowing a leak to progress to this point. Most service visits will include checking your system pressure, allowing technicians to determine if there may be a leak or restriction. The sooner you discover these problems, the easier it will be to fix them before they cause damage to other components.
Most importantly, an experienced technician will do more than just "top up" your system if they discover a low-pressure condition. Instead, they'll check your system for leaks and attempt to determine the underlying cause of the problem. This approach not only guarantees that your system will continue keeping you cool but it also ensures the problem will not return.
Reach out to an air conditioning service contractor for more information.