How Do I Know If My Air Conditioner Has A Refrigerant Leak?

feeling hot and sweaty due to air conditioner issues

AC refrigerant leaks are fairly common, but not always easy to identify. Often, an ineffective HVAC system can lead to discomfort in your home. There are also concerns about health issues if the leak is not fixed in time. As a homeowner, it is important to understand what a refrigerant leak is and what causes it. It’s also crucial to know when you should take a closer look at your HVAC system.

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How Do I Know If My Air Conditioner Has A Refrigerant Leak?

In this article, we will discuss refrigerants and the common causes of coolant leaks. We will also consider steps to take if your air conditioner has a leak.

What Does Air Conditioner Refrigerant Do?

image of air conditioner refrigerant

An air conditioner refrigerant is a compound that typically comes in a fluid or gaseous state. The compressor and certain components forces the refrigerant (such as R-22) to flow throughout your air conditioning system. The compressor pulls the refrigerant in as it quickly compresses it, which causes the molecules to go into a smaller space. The molecules collide, allowing them to produce heat. The heat is eliminated as the refrigerant moves through the condenser. Removing heat is also helped with the use of fans. The refrigerant is condensed into liquid form as it cools down. It cools down even more as it goes through the evaporator. The evaporator coils cool the air as it passes through before it is delivered into a room or area.

Refrigerants are crucial for cooling the circulating air in an air conditioning system. The capability of the system to cool down an area is greatly reduced if the refrigerant leaks or runs out.

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What Causes An Air Conditioner To Leak Refrigerant?

Below, we discuss some common causes for an AC refrigerant leak.


Air conditioners have metal, such as copper tubes, inside their walls that can become corroded. Refrigerant leaks can be caused by holes and cracks in the weakened metal.

Improper Air Conditioner Installation

hvac contractor looking for a refrigerant leak in an air conditioner

Additionally, an air conditioner may have refrigerant leaks if it was not installed correctly.

Weakened Air Conditioner Joints And Connections

Other factors to consider include time and aging. Air conditioners’ joints eventually start to erode and thin out over time.

AC Factory Defects

It is possible that an air conditioning unit was assembled with a defect or handled improperly. These mistakes could result in a defect that causes coolant leakage.

Normal Air Conditioner Wear And Tear

Ultimately, if you are regularly using your air conditioner, it is bound to leak at some point due to regular wear and tear. Rubber seals protect specific parts of the air conditioning system, and these can become deteriorated with time. This situation makes it possible for the refrigerant to escape.

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Signs To Look For When Your Air Conditioner Has A Refrigerant Leak

energy costs of a home


  • Higher Electric Costs: If there is a refrigerant leak, your AC unit is not able to cool down your home effectively. This causes the system to work harder to make the circulating air the right temperature. This will result in a higher electric bill than you are used to.
  • AC Takes A Long Time To Cool Your Home: If it takes longer for your home to feel cool after the AC is turned on, it may be due to a coolant leak. This is because the air conditioner is losing its cooling power.
  • High Levels Of Humidity: Increased humidity in your home is a clue that your air conditioner unit is not operating properly. It will take a long time for the AC unit to dehumidify your home if the refrigerant levels are low.
  • Frozen Evaporator Coil: If the amount of refrigerant that circulates through the AC evaporator coils is not enough, the coil will not be able to absorb heat. The evaporator coils in the AC can freeze if there is not enough refrigerant circulating. This means that the coil cannot absorb any heat, so the coils will freeze. You can often see ice on the coils when this happens.
  • AC Leak: Frozen condensation can cause an AC leak from liquid that has melted on the evaporator coils. A puddle will form from the liquid that melted and dripped.
  • Hissing Sounds: If you hear a hissing sound, it may be from cracks or holes in your AC unit. This will particularly happen in places where the coils have refrigerant circulated. A larger leak may make a gurgling noise.
  • Low Airflow: Low airflow is caused by there not being enough refrigerant in the air conditioning system. This creates an insufficient production of cool air.
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Dangers Of Air Conditioner Refrigerant Leaks

image depicting dangers of ac coolant leaksRefrigerant can leak through vents, which is very dangerous. You can experience symptoms such as poor concentration, loss of coordination, dizziness, skin rashes, and shortness of breath with exposure. There’s a chance of developing frostbite or a chemical burn if the coolant directly contacts your skin. If you inhale high levels of the coolant, it can lead to seizures and loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, it could be fatal. Therefore, be sure to call a licensed HVAC contractor whenever your AC unit displays any performance problems.

Should I Repair Or Replace My Air Conditioner?

image of an HVAC contractor

While many think they can fix your air conditioner on your own, keep in mind that a refrigerant leak is a serious problem that will need a professional HVAC contractor. There are a number of problems that may have caused the coolant leak, so it’s best to have a professional take a look. Also, consider that attempting to fix a newer model yourself could void the warranty. In the case of these severe leaks, it is best to have a professional fix it.

Another important thing to know is that a common coolant used in older AC systems, R-22, has been phased out since January 1, 2020. It is no longer in production. However, it is still available in limited quantities and at very steep prices. If you happen to have an older air conditioner that used R-22 and you notice it’s not as efficient as it previously was, you should consider replacing it with a new unit rather than repairing it.

Old units are notorious for many problems besides a refrigerant leak. The cost of repairing a leaky, old, problematic AC system and its refrigerant level topped off could cost almost as much as half of a new, ENERGY STAR® certified air conditioner. Installing a new AC unit with a high SEER rating is the only way to assure reliable performance. It ensures a high level of comfort and improved efficiency.

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Installing a new energy-efficient air conditioner may be a great option for you if you have an old air conditioner and an AC refrigerant leak on your hands. Some simple issues can be fixed, but others are much more serious and require a more significant solution. If you have concerns, get in touch with your HVAC contractor what options you have to get the comfort and safety you need in your home.

Call McAllister Energy For Your Air Conditioning Requirements

McAllister Energy
McAllister Energy offers premium heating and cooling services in Camden County, New Jersey. We have experienced and knowledgeable NATE certified technicians on staff who can give you superior HVAC tune-ups, repairs, installations, and replacements. Our techs have the training and expertise to work on your HVAC system precisely.

McAllister Energy assures competitive heating and cooling service costs in this area. Our HVAC services can reduce your home cooling costs while improving your comfort and increasing your energy efficiency. You can count on us to recommend the best repairs and HVAC replacements for you and your home. We guarantee your satisfaction with all of our work. Call McAllister Energy today to schedule an appointment. We offer free, in-home estimates.

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