How to Check Gas Leak in Air Conditioner?

Written by: Kaushik Jethva

Last Updated: May 3, 2024

air condition unit refrigerant fluid leaking with white freon chemical
Air condition unit refrigerant fluid leaking with white freon chemical

Air conditioning is not only about comfort but also about safety and efficiency. Regular maintenance keeps your air conditioner running at its full efficiency with very little energy consumption. One of the most critical issues with air conditioning is gas leakage. It is advisable to detect and eliminate gas leaks as they can significantly affect system performance and also pose a safety risk. Undetected gas leaks can lead to a decrease in cooling efficiency and result in high productivity costs. More seriously, gas leaks can lead to serious safety hazards, including adverse effects on air quality, and an increased risk of fire or explosion. Knowing how to check gas leak in air conditioner is important for any air conditioning owner.

1 Understanding Your Air Conditioner

Refrigeration is nothing other than the operation of the air conditioner by varying gases called refrigerants. Common refrigerants that are mostly used by residential and commercial air conditioners include R-32, R-22, and R-410A.

  • R-32 causes much less environmental damage compared to other refrigerants and is being used in increasing numbers with new models.
  • There is a gradual phaseout of older models that use R-22 or Freon, which depletes the ozone layer significantly.
  • R-410A is widely used in current air conditioning systems and does not deplete the ozone layer, thus being more friendly toward the environment.
air conditioner in bedroom
Air conditioner in bedroom

2 The role of Refrigerants in Air Conditioners

engineer pointing on refrigerants
Engineer pointing on refrigerants

In an air conditioning setup, refrigerant serves as the primary component responsible for extracting heat from indoor air and expelling it outside, thus cooling the indoor space. This refrigerant travels through a sealed system comprising coils and compressors. When there’s a leakage, the refrigerant leaks out, disrupting this process. This not only diminishes the air conditioner’s efficiency, requiring it to exert more effort and consume more energy, but it also results in inadequate cooling and accelerated wear and tear on the system’s components.

3 Signs of a Refrigerant Leak

Finding a refrigerant leak at the initial stage is of prime importance to ensure the safety and efficiency of your air conditioning system. How will you know if there is a refrigerant leak?

Unusual Noises
Hissing or bubbling sounds with your air conditioning may not be good, as they might mean gas is leaking out from the holes in your system.

Decreased Cooling Efficiency
When your room is not cooling as it should, or probably your air conditioning unit is taking too long to attain the pre-set temperatures, it is a clear sign that one is running low on refrigerant, mostly due to a leak in the unit.

Ice on the Compressor
An ice formation on the compressor or evaporator coils could mean there is an insufficient amount of refrigerant in order for the system to be able to absorb adequate heat.

High Power Bills
Higher energy bills would mean that the air conditioner is being overworked to compensate for inefficiency since some amount of its performance is lost due to a refrigerant leak.

Poor Humidity Control
On the other hand, if the humidity level is not adequately low by the air conditioner, then that is most likely a sign of very little refrigerant in the air conditioning system, hence very little capacity to cool the air for dehumidification.

Longer Operation Times
A low refrigerant will result in extended periods of operation. The system has, therefore, to run longer to reach the set temperature. This tells us about the inefficiency of cooling cycles.

Inconsistent Air Temperature
Variations of the temperature in the air or even the air not so cold could point out an indicator of a refrigerant leak in the system, affecting the cooling capacity of the system.

Corrosion or Damage
You might see some damage or corrosion to the refrigerant lines; however, there is no visible evidence or even the oil around the several parts of the AC system. This will be due to the leaked refrigerant oil from the same areas as that of the refrigerant itself.

Chemical Smells
A strange chemical-like smell from your premises could be due to refrigerant leaking into the air from the inside unit. This is not normal, and you should correct it immediately.

4 Preparing to Check for a Leak

Before undertaking the check for a refrigerant leak in your air conditioning system, you have to have it at the back of your mind concerning your safety and that of the system.

Safety: Tools and Gear Needed

Safety should be on your top list. Always ensure to be equipped with the right safety gear before commencing inspection; this includes:

  • Gloves: To protect the hand from sharp components and possible chemical burns due to refrigerant.
  • Goggles: For the protection of the eyes against splashes or foreign bodies.
  • Long sleeves and pants: This ensures that body parts such as hands, arms, and legs have minimal skin contact with the refrigerants or sharp edges in the unit.

This tools will prevent unnecessary injuries and make the environment safe for maintenance checks.

Turning Off the Power

While examining or making repairs, the power to the unit should be turned off for further safety. Mostly, that can be done from your circuit breaker box by switching the breaker off that powers your AC system.

If the voltage of the electricity can be forbidden, then forbid it so that it can cause no electrical accidents and so that the air conditioner will not mysteriously turn on while you are working on it. Through this method, you should be able to look into it safely and effectively.

Having put in place all these, it is now possible to go ahead and check for leaks humanely in your air conditioning system.

5 DIY Methods to Detect a Refrigerant Leak

Not all the time should the detection of refrigerant leaks be left up to professionals, as a homeowner himself can detect some of the leaks safely and effectively. Three such detecting ways using available tools in a DIY manner are hereby described below:

Soap Bubble Test

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Look for leaks in the air conditioning evaporator by immersing it in evaporator coil leak

Very simple and effective for locating the leaks are the test with soapy bubbles. Do as follows:

  1. Mix a couple of drops of dish soap with water in a spray bottle.
  2. Apply the soapy water on the suspected areas where the possible leak could be generously.
  3. The soapy water should be applied to the suspicious areas where the possible leak could be, for example, fittings and connections generously.
  4. Look carefully at the bubbles’ formation. Soap bubbles forming at the point indicate that there is a leak from the spot where gas has been escaping.

Electronic Leak Detector

refinery technician checking gas leakage with electronic leak detector
Refinery technician checking gas leakage with Electronic Leak Detector

Electronic leak detectors are sensitive and sophisticated, providing a high level of accuracy when you are looking for leaks. Here are a few tips on how to humanely use this tool:

  1. One should select a detector that will be able to function with the refrigerant in the system.
  2. Turn the detector on and allow it to calibrate as prescribed by the manufacturer.
  3. Move the sensor tip slowly around the areas where leaks are more likely. The detector will indicate, through beeping or flashing, when refrigerant gases are sensed.

UV Dye and Black Light Method

Using UV dye is a reliable method for identifying hard-to-find leaks. Here’s how to use this method:

  1. Add UV Dye to the Refrigerant. This step will only involve adding some amount of the UV dye to the refrigerant system. This is mainly done per the manufacturer’s instructions, most of the time, by attaching a dye canister to the refrigerant charging system.
  2. Turn on the Air Conditioner. Let it run for a few hours, if possible, to try to circulate the dye through the system.
  3. Perform an inspection of all surfaces and parts that make up the air conditioning system using a UV black light. The staining of the dye will become visible and fluorescent (bright) under the black light at the leak point, thus showing the location where repairs will be needed.

6 When to Call a Professional

Even though the basic approach of detecting a refrigerant leak might be carried out as a do-it-yourself project, it has its share of limits. It is always in these cases that a person should get a professional to help and advise.

Limitations of DIY Methods

The leak detection methods helpful for DIY homeowners are those only that focus on the identification of obvious leaks. They might work for smaller and less obvious leaks. Second, do-it-yourself fixings are not capable of repairing the leaks or guaranteeing the right functioning system after the leak has been corrected. There is also a possibility of either misjudging a situation or the possibility of further damage caused to the system because proper procedure was not followed.

Professional Maintenance and Repair

Regular and professional maintenance is very crucial for the longer operation and peak efficiency of your air conditioning system. Professionals have the tools, skills, and knowledge for a thorough inspection, diagnosis, and repair of your system to ensure its operation at peak efficiency. They might even see some additional issues, which would be unseen by an unprofessional eye.

How Professionals Handle Refrigerant Leaks

In the presence of a refrigerant leak, the professionals do the following,

  1. Leak Confirmation: The technician could locate the presence of a leak or even the precise location with sophisticated, sensitive equipment; otherwise, it could be found with some DIY procedure.
  2. Repair: When the exact problem area is identified, accurate repairs can be done, such as replacing the defective parts or sealing the leaks.
  3. Replace: After repairing, the technician will have to replace the system with an appropriate amount of refrigerant according to the specification by the manufacturer.
  4. Test the System: This final phase tests the system to assure its proper and efficient functionality without further leaks.

The professional servicing is due to the fact that it ensures that the elements of the air conditioning system, and not the refrigerant levels, are fully looked into and maintained. They also advise on how to be effective in your system’s operation and outline the types of upgrades that may, in the long run, save you money. The more it becomes a necessity to call in an expert in case you have tried a DIY fix, and the problem still persists, or the AC system continues to be wanting in performance even after topping up the refrigerant. Professionals ensure that the work repaired is carried out in a safe, effective manner, and complies with all environmental regulations.

7 Preventing Future Leaks

Regular Maintenance Tips

  1. Check the air.
  2. Get a professional and have them schedule regular checkups of your AC system to make sure every tiny detail is in the right working condition. It will help you notice any arising issues before they become complications.
  3. Dirty filters can cause an increase in pressure on the system, leading to leaks. Clean the air filters if necessary or replace them, generally between one to three months, or according to usage and environmental factors.
  4. Ensure cleanliness of the evaporator and condenser coils, free from dirty, debris, since the dirty coil would lead the system to be inefficient and increase the chance of damage and leaks.
  5. Keep the area around the outside unit open and free from rubble and bushes so that proper ventilation can take place. Avoid blocking the indoor vents with either furniture or curtains.

Importance of Timely Repairs and Professional Check-Ups

Should your air conditioner do anything unusual, like make strange noises, possess less cooling capability, or if lately your energy bills have shot up, then invite a professional. The earlier the repair, the less chance of incurring costly problems, such as refrigerant leaks. Our experts will do more than solve the problems; they will fine-tune the system for performance and efficiency, hence avoiding further issues.

Recommendations for Routine AC Maintenance Schedules

Schedule a check-up of your air conditioning system with a professional at least once a year before the cooling season. It could include checking the level of the refrigerant, testing for leaks, electrical components, and controls testing, and coil and other component cleaning. At the end of the cooling season, always cover your outdoor unit to protect it from winter weather and debris. This can prevent damage, which might end up causing leaks in the spring. Keep records of all maintenance and repairs conducted on your AC system. This will assist in troubleshooting possible issues should they arise in the future, and at the same time, you will have maintained a steady maintenance schedule.

8 Wrapping Up

It is very important to ensure the detection and correction of refrigerant leaks in your air conditioning system. This will affect both performance and system safety while affecting the environment. Either they use some of the DIY methods to check for leaks by themselves or avail themselves of professional servicing; in every case, it is proactive to fix a leak. We do encourage you, though, to stay watchful for the warning signs of refrigerant leaks: hissing sounds, ice forming on some parts, inconsistency in cooling, and higher energy bills. In other words, this will prevent taking early action from giving rise to more significant problems down the line and helping maintain the efficiency of your air conditioner.

Generally, proper care and regular maintenance will prevent sustained refrigerant leaks from your system. Be sure to schedule a yearly check-up with a qualified technician, and do not hesitate to call for professional help if you ever suspect that something is wrong with your system. Keeping up with the maintenance of the air conditioning system is going to help you receive efficient cooling with lesser energy costs, on top of peace of mind that your system is in good working condition. Always remember that your air conditioner needs maintenance to provide refreshing air, not contribute to spoiled air, just as you wouldn’t want someone to come to you.

FAQ's about Gas Leakage in Air Conditioners

How do I know if my AC is leaking gas?

To detect an AC gas leak, check for unusual hissing sounds, weak cooling, increased energy bills, or a distinct chemical smell. Also, look for visible signs like frost on the evaporator coil or water leaks.

To check the gas level in your air conditioner, use a manifold gauge set to measure the refrigerant pressure. If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, it’s best to contact a professional HVAC technician for accurate testing and potential refilling.

To detect leakage in an air conditioner, look for signs like poor cooling performance, hissing sounds, increased energy consumption, or a chemical smell. For a precise diagnosis, use soap water on potential leak points to spot bubbles or consult a professional technician.

A gas leak can go unnoticed for days or even weeks if it’s minor or if the gas doesn’t have a strong odour. However, prolonged exposure can lead to safety hazards, so it’s crucial to regularly inspect your air conditioner and promptly address any signs of a leak

Running an air conditioner without gas can damage the compressor because it relies on the refrigerant for lubrication and cooling. Without gas, the system can’t effectively remove heat, leading to potential overheating and expensive repairs.

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About This Article

Kaushik Jethva
Written by: Kaushik Jethva author

This article has been viewed 74 times.

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Updated: May 3, 2024
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