Recharging a Home AC – What You Need to Know
Central air conditioners have one primary job: to keep you comfortable. If your AC doesn’t do this and it is appropriately sized for your home, something is wrong. You have heard the advice to change your filters, keep it cleaned, and to have a smart thermostat, but did you know that air conditioners may also need to recharge? If your system has malfunctioned or has been damaged, your refrigerant may need to be recharged. Here’s what you need to know about recharging a home AC.
What is a Recharge?
Before we go into the specifics, such as when to recharge your AC, let’s explain what we mean by recharging. In reality, the term should be refilling because that’s actually what’s happening. At no point does a recharge involve electricity until after the repairs and maintenance are completed and you turn the system on. Your AC uses a refrigerant to pull the heat out of the air. After the transfer of heat, it is ready to go into the compressor. However, if the refrigerant is low or nonexistent, there is no transfer of heat. So, a recharge is merely a refilling of the refrigerant into the system.
Please keep in mind it is highly recommended (and not just by HVAC companies) to have a professional perform this maintenance. It seems simple, but it is actually very dangerous to you and your system if not done properly. Believe it or not, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) requires by law that you have professional certification to perform this procedure.
Signs You Need a Recharge
Your system is built to not lose refrigerant. In fact, the refrigerant should last longer than your system. The need for a recharge is, in most cases, because of a leak. The question is how do you tell you have a leak? After all, you don’t inspect your system daily to notice anything unusual. The signs that you need a recharge include:
- If your vents are blowing room temperature air – This is a tell-tale sign of a needed recharge. In the majority of cases, this sign is present. There are some miscellaneous problems that can cause this as well, such as a broken thermostat, but the temperature you feel coming from the vents will degrade over time. In other words, it won’t go from cool air to room temperature instantaneously. Instead, it will slowly rise in temperature as it runs out of refrigerant.
- Frozen units – We have a more in-depth blog post on frozen AC units here, but one of the signs of a leaking unit is the buildup of frost/ice on the unit. If you’ve ever looked into the front of a window unit, you’ll see pipes that look quite frosty inside. These coils are where the refrigerant flows. The refrigerant is a gas that will freeze nearly anything it touches. The pipes are built to withstand the refrigerant and transport it around the system, but if there is a leak, you will notice it because everything will be frost-covered or just plain frozen.
- Regular maintenance – It’s always a good idea to have your unit inspected to ensure the unit continues to work properly. A lot of homeowners are skeptical on recharges. Depending on your budget, this may simply not be possible. During maintenance visits, a good HVAC technician can detect a leak and repair and recharge your system.
The leaks are most often caused by damage to the unit. In some cases, the unit was poorly manufactured in which case a replacement could in fact be a viable option for you. If your unit is brand new or nearly new and you have a leak, then you should call your manufacturer and inform them that you would like a replacement as the product is faulty. However, if the system is between 10-20 years old, it’s more likely that something caused the leak.
Recharge vs. Replacement
Whenever a leak is mentioned, a lot of people will claim that a replacement is absolutely necessary and, in some cases, cheaper. Depending on whether the leak is small or large, this could be true. Replacing many of the parts, the leak(s), recharging the system, and labor costs can add up if the leak is significant. In this case, a replacement with a newer, more efficient system is the better option.
A recharge is the better option if the leak is small. It may be more affordable to recharge the system at the start of the season during your maintenance visit every year than to replace the unit. The leak may also be easily repaired by soldering the hole and refilling the refrigerant. Consult a professional to see which option is better for you and be sure to ask for estimates both ways.
It can be difficult to find an honest HVAC company, but if you’re in the Reading, PA area, contact us at 610-926-4200 and we’ll talk you through your options.