Refrigerant (sometimes called coolant or freon) is a necessary component in every HVAC system. Older HVAC systems relied upon R-22, but new HVAC equipment has moved to R-410A, which is a chlorine-free refrigerant. Regardless of the refrigerant type, all function essentially the same way: to create a cooling effect through an expanding or vaporizing process. But how do you end up with low refrigerant in an HVAC system?

In theory, an HVAC is a closed system where the refrigerant is cycled through various states. In reality, this is nearly impossible. All HVAC systems will lose some refrigerant to leakage due to flaws in seams and fittings or through vibration and wear and tear. Tiny leaks won’t be noticeable, but if they become larger over time, you will start to feel the effects. Here are the tell-tale signs of low refrigerant in HVAC systems.

4 Signs of Low Refrigerant in an HVAC

1. Indoor Temperature Isn’t Cool

Maybe the first thing you’ll notice if your HVAC is low on refrigerant is that you are having trouble cooling your home. Lowering the thermostat doesn’t work, and your HVAC system is now constantly running as it tries to cool a home at a temperature it cannot easily maintain. In Myrtle Beach, this will be most notable during our hot and humid summer months when HVAC systems are put to the test. 

2. Increased Utility Bills

With less refrigerant, your HVAC will struggle to cool your home or office. This means it will be running more frequently. You’ll notice the inefficiency when you get your power bill. Sure, power bills tend to go up in the summer when the AC is working overtime, but if you see a spike in your year to year, this could be a sign of a refrigerant leak. Chances are you’ll notice the temperature first, but the higher bill will only confirm what you suspect.

3. Ice Buildup on Outdoor HVAC Unit

The evaporator coils on your HVAC unit on the side of your home or office might have ice buildup. Evaporator coils contain refrigerant, and if your refrigerant becomes too low, liquid refrigerant will backflow into the coils which become extremely cold to the point that ice forms. You will see this even in the heat of a South Carolina summer. 

4. Noticeable Hissing Noise

Since low refrigerant in your HVAC is the result of a leak, you may hear escaping gas from one of unit’s lines. Some have described a hissing noise while others a slight bubbling. In either case, you are hearing refrigerant escaping from your unit, and chances are, if you can hear it, you might be able to visually inspect and spot it rather easily.

Refilling Refrigerant and Fixing Your Leak

If you think you have low refrigerant from a leak, the best thing is to call an HVAC professional sooner rather than later. Refilling refrigerant and fixing leaks is a troubleshooting problem that Cooper Mechanical Services has been solving since 1989. 

Running your AC with low refrigerant isn’t just ineffective. Buildup and refrigerant back-flow can damage an HVAC compressor, which is a more expensive problem to fix. Instead, shut your HVAC off, call Cooper, and let us measure your refrigerant and perform some tests to locate your leak