How Often Should I Be Adding Refrigerant to My A/C?
“How often should I be adding refrigerant to my A/C?” is a question we get a lot here at Needham…and the answer is a simple one:
You shouldn’t have to “add” refrigerant to a central air conditioner because it doesn’t “use up” refrigerant. The only reason you would ever need to recharge (that is, add refrigerant to) your A/C is if you have a leak; once the leak is fixed, the problem should be solved.
Yet every year we hear about customers whose old HVAC techs have told them that “these things happen to aging systems” as they recharge the A/C summer after summer. If that is happening to you, you need better technicians.
What should happen when you call for a refrigerant charge
If you have warm air coming from your vents and suspect that your A/C may need a recharge, your air conditioning contractor should do these things in this order:
1. Assess your system from top to bottom. This means:
- Looking at your air filter and thermostat;
- Inspecting the indoor unit; and
- Taking the cover off your outdoor unit to look for problems.
Note that it does NOT mean that he immediately checks your refrigerant levels! This is because other problems (a dirty air filter, frozen evaporator coils, etc.) could be affecting the reading of the refrigerant charge. Once these problems identified, the technician will know if their leak readings are accurate or not.
2. If refrigerant is low, they should tell you why and give you options for next steps. Rather than simply recharging your system, your technician should tell you the reason why your system is leaking in the first place, then give you options to fix it. Generally speaking, there are three options if a leak has been identified:
- Recharge your A/C without fixing the leak – This is only recommended if you intend to replace the unit within the next year, or possibly if this is a slow, first-time leak (if you go this route, we recommend having the tech put in a UV dye with the new refrigerant so they can find a leak the next time it happens).
- Find and fix the leak – The cost to repair the refrigerant leak will depend on where in your system it is located; a tech will use electronic equipment, UV dye, or a bubbling agent to find the source of the problem. Once they find it, they will drain your system, fix the link, recharge your A/C, and test it.
- Replace your unit – The typical shelf life of an air conditioner can range from 15-20 years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy – but can be significantly less than that if it has not been properly maintained.
If your air conditioner is 12-14 years old and already losing significant efficiency by virtue of its age, investing in a recharge may not be the smartest move – particularly in light of the fact that R-22 refrigerant (better known as Freon) is getting quite expensive as we approach the deadline for its phase out. In the long run, upgrading to a new system that uses R-410A refrigerant may be a better choice.