Air Conditioning Freon and Refrigerant Leaks
The cooling medium of a air conditioning or refrigeration system is called its refrigerant. In most residential air conditioners and many refrigeration systems it is R-22 or Freon which is a chlorofluorocarbon or CFC. Freon is an Environmental Protection Agency controlled substance which is deemed hazardous if released into the environment and will damage the Earths ozone layer if not properly contained. Air conditioners do not consume Freon and you should never need to add or change the Freon in your air conditioning system unless there is a leak. According to environmental laws any refrigerant that is removed must be extracted and and filtered by a refrigerant recovery or recycling machine.
According to environmental laws any refrigerant that is purchased, installed, or removed must be extracted and and filtered by a certified technician using a certified refrigerant recovery or recycling machine. To become certified technicians must successfully pass a written examination for the type of equipment on which they wish to work. There are three different types of certification, Type I for small appliances, Type II for high pressure refrigerants, and Type III for low pressure refrigerants. Exams are given by organizations which have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.
It is extremely important that the coolant or Freon level of an air conditioning system be checked often. A 10% loss of Freon or coolant will cost the home or business owner 20 percent more in electrical costs and can cause undue wear and tear on your unit. The Air Conditioning Contractors of America or ACCA recommend checking once a year to maintain the proper Freon levels. If your Freon levels are low either the proper charge was never added to your system or there is a leak which should be repaired.
Low levels of Freon can cause compressor failure, reduce the efficiency of your air conditioner, can freeze the evaporator coil, and many other problems. Freon leaks will not get smaller and will usually increase in severity over time so a repair can save money on service as well. The laws on CFC's do not allow an air conditioning contractor to add Freon to a leaky commercial system if the leak is within 30% of the units capacity. They are required to fix the leak in the system. Violation of this law may cause contractors to loose their license.
Leaks can be caused by many problems including unit vibration, physical damage (from lawn movers, pets, etc.), stress, worn service valves, etc. Methods for locating leaks include visual inspection, high viscosity liquid leak detector, electronic detection equipment, ultraviolet leak detection and a nitrogen isolation test. Of all of the methods the nitrogen isolation test is one of the most effective methods for locating all the leaks in the a system.
In a nitrogen isolation test the system is isolated into four parts. The condensing unit, suction line, liquid line, and evaporator coil. Access fittings are installed and sealed shut to allow nitrogen pressure of several hundred pounds PSI (per square inch) is added to each component. Pressure readings are taken and recorded and if there is a pressure drop it indicates the presence of a leak. For very small leaks it may be necessary to leave the unit pressurized for up to 24 hours. After the leak is repaired the system is reconnected, vacuumed, and charged with refrigerant
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