Clarifying note: Freon is a brand name of refrigerant that has come to be used generically to mean any refrigerant. In this article, we use the word Freon and refrigerant interchangeably.
An AC doesn’t “use up” refrigerant. So you should never need to recharge your air conditioner with more Freon—unless there’s a leak.
Yet, here’s a scenario we hear about way too often:
- AC isn’t blowing cold air
- Some air conditioning tech says you need Freon
- You pay to put 1-2 pounds in your system (this is called “charging” your AC unit)
- AC works for the summer
- Next summer, repeat steps 1-4
If this has happened to you, call a new AC company! You are either being scammed or the tech is incompetent (or both). Neglecting to fix the refrigerant leak is like knowing there’s a nail in your tire but just filling up the tire with more air instead of taking the nail out and fixing the hole.
Not only is this more expensive for you (you have to keep paying to recharge your AC), but if your system still uses the R-22 refrigerant, it’s also extremely bad for the environment. R-22 is being phased out because it depletes the ozone, which contributes to climate change.
Read more about the phaseout of R-22 at phaseoutfacts.org.
So what should have happened when you called the AC company about a possible Freon charge?
The AC tech should spend time troubleshooting your air conditioner
Just as a doctor takes into account your whole body’s health when assessing your symptoms, an AC tech should look at your entire air conditioning system before making a diagnosis and prescription.
In this case, the air conditioning technician should:
- Look at your air filter and thermostat
- Inspect the indoor unit
- Take the cover off your outdoor unit to look for problems
Why not just immediately measure the amount of refrigerant in the air conditioner?
If you have other problems (dirty air filter, frozen evap coils, etc.), they will affect the reading of the refrigerant charge in your central air conditioner.
So, once they've inspected everything else, the technician will know if their tool for measuring Freon (AC manifold gauge) is accurate or not.
If refrigerant is low, they should tell you about the leak
Rather than just saying, “You need more refrigerant; here’s the cost,” your AC technician should let you know that you are low on refrigerant and explain to you that means you have a leak.
Then, depending on your situation, they may give you a couple options that can include:
Option 1: Recharging your AC without fixing the leak
Yes, we just said that’s not a good idea. But finding and fixing a leak can be expensive. So you may not want to do it if both of the following are true:
- You’ve never had to recharge the unit before—The leak is likely a slow one and recharging the unit may get you through the summer.
- You’re going to be replacing the unit within the next year—No use in sinking money into something you’ll soon be replacing.
However, even if you go this route, we recommend having the tech put in a UV dye with the new refrigerant. Then, the next time your AC is low on refrigerant, the AC tech can easily locate the leak and let you know the cost to fix.
Option 2: Finding and fixing the leak
The tech will likely give you a price to locate the leak. Then, once they’ve found the leak, they’ll give you the price to fix the leak, which will depend on where it’s located. In many cases, the AC tech will have to:
- Find the leak using electronic equipment, UV dye or a bubbling agent
- Evacuate all the refrigerant (this is a fancy word for removing the refrigerant from the system)
- Fix the leak
- Recharge the air conditioner
- Test to make sure the leak has been fixed
Option 3: Replacing the unit
Yes, we know replacing the whole unit because of a refrigerant leak seems extreme. And it doesn’t happen that often.
But in some situations it makes sense.
For example, let’s say your air conditioner is 14+ years old and to fix the leak we have to replace the condensing coil. Do you really want to put $1,000+ into your current system when you’ll still likely need a whole new system in a year or less?
This is usually the case if your system uses R-22 refrigerant and the fix for the leak is extremely costly. Since R-22 is being phased out, parts are harder to come by and more expensive. And so is the refrigerant itself.
In the long run, upgrading to a new system that uses R-410A refrigerant may be a better choice. (Plus, this new refrigerant is better for the environment!)
Think your AC needs refrigerant? Contact the pros
Need AC help and live in central New Jersey? Contact Air Experts.
Air Experts can fix any AC problem. And we’ve been serving the entire central Jersey area since 1994. Contact us for more information.
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