AC freon leak question

homeacproblemMarch 17, 2008

I recently found that my home AC system had little or no freon. I foolishly did not have the level of freon checked for the last 3-4 years. Today, I had the system recharged with 8 lbs of freon. During the fill, the technician visually observed the unit for signs of an obvious leak, while also monitoring the stability of the newly added freon. He detected no obvious leaks, either visually, or from some unexpected instability in equipment monitored freon levels during or immediately after the fill. I know that freon is order-less. Still I do sense a bit of a smell, which I assume to be dirty coils from years of condensation buildup. This peculiar smell, though quite light, has been around for several months...say 5-6 or so. In the end, I feel that given the time in which I had not checked the freon levels (3-4 years), that more than likely the system has a very, very tiny leak where it loses a tiny amount of freon daily until it finally bled dry some 4 year later. Due to the likelihood of this theory, I elected to NOT have a freon halogen leak test...a savings of $150....and instead simply filled the system. I would appreciate any thoughts you might have about my reasoning on this matter and the course of action I selected. Thanks for any help you might provide.

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Leaks can get bigger over time. Trust me, you don't want to be playing the fill it up as you go game. I've been in a situation similar to yours. I had a leak test done (dye leak test) and the leak was found at the muffler and replaced. A system running low or near empty on freon is quite harmful to your compressor. I know this because I've had to replace my compressor. :) Luckily, I had a service agreement through all of this.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 9:35PM
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I will be glad to help you with your problem.I am of course qualified,with 6 years formal education and 22 years hands-on experience with air conditioning/refrigeration systems.The first question I have is:Is it a package unit(meaning all of the equipment is located outside),or is it a split system (air handler inside the house,and condensing unit outside)? Second question:Does this unit cool only?or heat and cool? The brand name is irrelevant.I just need to understand what type of unit that you have.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 2:04PM
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R22 is getting expensive these days - $20 to $30 per pound.

I would want to know where my system is leaking from.

Condensers have low pressure cut-out switches that will prevent the unit from runnning if the pressure is too low.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 2:16PM
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Refrigeration systems are sealed. So, if you had a leak and nothing was fixed, you still have a leak.

In order to handle refrigerant, you must be certified by the EPA. If the tech that added freon comes back and adds more without closely inspecting the unit with a leak detector, he could be fined up to $10,000 for a willfull CFC venting violation. I'm not sure what the homeowner liabilities are however, continuing to have freon added, knowing there is a leak could be viewed as no different than purposely venting CFC's to the air.

Freon has a slight odor of silicone type smell aand can take on a burnt smell as the unit gets older but, with a small leak, I doubt you can detect that with the normal nose.

It is rare unless it is a new or a premium condensor to have a low pressure cut out but it will overheat when low or out of freon and the klixon near the compressor terminals, will cycle until that fails.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 2:55PM
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"In order to handle refrigerant, you must be certified by the EPA. If the tech that added freon comes back and adds more without closely inspecting the unit with a leak detector, he could be fined up to $10,000 for a willfull CFC venting violation. I'm not sure what the homeowner liabilities are however, continuing to have freon added, knowing there is a leak could be viewed as no different than purposely venting CFC's to the air."

While I agree with leak checking any system when you have to add freon, there is NO law saying that you have to for simple residential units.

The law states that only systems containing more than 50 lbs of freon are required to leak check. And even then, it has to be higher than 15%(comfort cooling) or 35%(commercial/industrial process refrigeration) leak rate in 1 year.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 3:42PM
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Want to bet on that one aemeeich?

Continuing to add freon to a system with a known leak without taking reasonables steps to fix is "willfull venting"

Obviously you don't hold your own EPA cert card, were not paying attention, or forgot.

January 21, 2003: Three North Carolina Air Conditioning Repairmen Plead Guilty to Venting Ozone-Depleting Refrigerants (PDF, 44K, about PDF)
Three North Carolina air-conditioning repairmen plead guilty in U.S. District Court to violating the Clean Air Act by knowingly venting ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerant, R-22, into the atmosphere. The three employees, of J & J Maintenance of Ft. Bragg, N.C., were responsible for maintaining the residential air conditioning units at Ft. Bragg. When sentenced, each defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

I can produce many more cases, including residential.

You better read the rules below, especially if you are in the business.

(c) Prohibitions.- (1) Effective July 1, 1992, it shall be
unlawful for any person, in the course of maintaining, servicing,
repairing, or disposing of an appliance or industrial process
refrigeration, to knowingly vent or otherwise knowingly release
or dispose of any class I or class II substance used as a
refrigerant in such appliance (or industrial process
refrigeration) in a manner which permits such substance to enter
the environment. De minimis releases associated with good faith
attempts to recapture and recycle or safely dispose of any such
substance shall not be subject to the prohibition set forth in
the preceding sentence.
(2) Effective 5 years after the enactment of the Clean Air Act
Amendments of 1990, paragraph (1) shall also apply to the
venting, release, or disposal of any substitute substance for a
class I or class II substance by any person maintaining,
servicing, repairing, or disposing of an appliance or industrial
process refrigeration which contains and uses as a refrigerant
any such substance, unless the Administrator determines that
venting, releasing, or
disposing of such substance does not pose a threat to the
environment. For purposes of this paragraph, the term "appliance"
includes any device which contains and uses as a refrigerant a
substitute substance and which is used for household or
commercial purposes, including any air conditioner, refrigerator,
chiller, or freezer.

Here is a link that might be useful: EPA 608 regs

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 4:01PM
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Lol....this is like "the battle of the service technicians".To homeacproblem- At the factory,the low side of the system is pressure tested at 150 pounds of pressure,and the high side is pressure tested at 300 pounds of pressure.If you want to find the leak,simply have someone (a reputable service company)pressurize the system with 150 pounds of nitrogen.A spray bottle with a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water,and perhaps even a good sense of hearing will find the leak.This method is far better than any electronic leak detector.In most cases,it is on the high side of the system.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 4:21PM
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I do realize that certain and different rules do apply to larger systems (over 50lbs), including record keeping among others. However, that doesn't allow willfull venting to be allowed on residential systems.

Continuing to recharge a leaking system is no different than opening the service ports or cutting the lines in the EPA's eyes.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 4:49PM
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zl700 "Obviously you don't hold your own EPA cert card, were not paying attention, or forgot."

Actually I am certified in 608, 609, and 410, and I didn't forget anything.

According to the EPA's own website (full page linked below if you care to read it), "The leak repair requirements, promulgated under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, require that when an owner or operator of an appliance that normally contains a refrigerant charge of more than 50 pounds discovers that refrigerant is leaking at a rate that would exceed the applicable trigger rate during a 12-month period, the owner or operator must take corrective action."

And here is a quote from a different page of the EPA's website. note number 2 - it again excludes smaller systems (under 50 lbs as referenced in the link) from needing leak repairs.

The Prohibition on Venting
"Only four types of releases are permitted under the prohibition:

  1. "De minimis" quantities of refrigerant released in the course of making good faith attempts to recapture and recycle or safely dispose of refrigerant.
  2. Refrigerants emitted in the course of normal operation of air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment (as opposed to during the maintenance, servicing, repair, or disposal of this equipment) such as from mechanical purging and leaks. However, EPA requires the repair of leaks above a certain size in large equipment (see Refrigerant Leaks).
  3. Releases of CFCs or HCFCs that are not used as refrigerants. For instance, mixtures of nitrogen and R-22 that are used as holding charges or as leak test gases may be released, because in these cases, the ozone-depleting compound is not used as a refrigerant. However, a technician may not avoid recovering refrigerant by adding nitrogen to a charged system; before nitrogen is added, the system must be evacuated to the appropriate level in Table 1. Otherwise, the CFC or HCFC vented along with the nitrogen will be considered a refrigerant. Similarly, pure CFCs or HCFCs released from appliances will be presumed to be refrigerants, and their release will be considered a violation of the prohibition on venting.
  4. Small releases of refrigerant that result from purging hoses or from connecting or disconnecting hoses to charge or service appliances will not be considered violations of the prohibition on venting. However, recovery and recycling equipment manufactured after November 15, 1993, must be equipped with low-loss fittings."

Also, the story you posted about the NC repairmen made no mention of recharging flat units as the cause for the charges.

Here is a link that might be useful: EPA's leak repair requirement

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 9:55PM
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z1700. Love ya. We had those laws in 1990 and we all received the " act " when we HAD to go to school to get
C.F.C. certified in Canada. This also includes automotive
A.C. My bottles are weighed every year and checked with my
work orders by the Freon police. It had better balance and
there had better NOT show a refill for the same unit in as
many as 1 year.This still includes cars and residential
units. It is unlawfull up here to " top up " any system
including cars. There has to be a complete leak test and it
has to be FIXED. We actually have the power, well i do anyway, to black ball any A.C system be it residential,
commercial, or automotive and that system will NEVER be
refilled unless the owner proves it has been fixed. Then the company that fixed it signs off on it. Looks like you
boys from the south are slowly but surely getting our codes
on this freon stuff. Better late than never.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 10:39PM
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While EPA does not mandate repairing or replacing small systems because of leaks, system leaks can not only harm the environment, but also result in increased maintenance and operating costs. More importantly, there are cases on record where repairs were necessary and ignored and excessive addition of freon was cited in one case resulting in a settled fine with a local contractor.

As I stated in an earlier post, I understand the large/commercial system requirements for that IÂm not here to get in a pissing match. We are discussing residential systems and for that it is still against regs to allow venting. Every servicing agency must account within an acceptable percentage, where the Freon was used, via service tickets. If a HVAC co. has a loose policy of not being able to show documentation of where the Freon was used or is found using excessive Freon on same units, they are facing action. Now I know that the chance of an audit is rare, but one whistleblower (disgruntled tech) can do most the legwork for the EPA resulting in a quick yet example setting federal judgment.

If the EPA didn't care about intentional venting of CFC's, they wouldn't govern sales, reclaiming, and all the other crap.

If you feel it is widely allowed, kindly video tape yourself opening service ports of a residential AC system and make sure you send me copies with names, address, location of violation performed to me. Oh yes, also make sure your face is clearly recognizable and a shot of service van with lettering on side would be nice too.

After you do that, we'll discuss how venting of CFC's don't matter residentially.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 10:57PM
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We live by nearly the same rules here in US, just loosely interpreted and rarely inforced.

I have met a person though ASHRAE that was audited and fined for not being able to account for freon used in service/installs.

Exactly my point, if the service tech continues to recharge the same system rather than fix or show attempt to find a fix, he's got some explaining to do.

For the record, never been a tech just a retired Mech Cont Co owner that got my universal back in '94?

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 11:05PM
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I am not arguing that you should never leak check / repair leaking residential systems. In fact I agree with it. As I said in my first response - it is something that should be done. What I am saying however, is that according to the EPA it is not REQUIRED on systems containing less than 50 lbs.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2008 at 12:16AM
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What were we taking about

    Bookmark   March 19, 2008 at 4:18AM
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homeacproblem :
It sounds to me like the leak is pretty small. More than likely, its comming from the low pressure side of the system ... ex: evap coil, suction line dryer or a fitting on the big copper line, maybe even the service valve. You stated that its been several years since you have had the system checked and a small leak in these areas would take a while to bleed down to where the unit would not function properly.

Some thing to think about as well... if you have a leak, you are not only leaking freon out of the system but also oil from the compressor. Leak enough of either and its gonna cost big bucks in the end.

Hope this helps

    Bookmark   March 19, 2008 at 11:21AM
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I have a question if someone could help. I know this post is old but I just recently found a leak in my TRANE system. it is a two part system. the aluminum pipe that coils around the compressor has a very small leak that you can hear. the Freon only last 3 weeks. is their any way to repair the crack. or do I need to replace the outside Condenser? thanks.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 12:01AM
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I have a question I just got my ac heat unit checked and the guy came in and said that we have a leak in the accumulator at the out door unit. put in 2lbs of freon and changed our thermostat to a digital one and paid 345.00 for this how much did i get ripped of. thanks for any imput on this (he didn't fix the leak)

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 9:41PM
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I need some professional advise. I have one of the unit charged with 4 pounds of freon and the technician said that there is a possible coil leak. I then asked the warranty company to check on the leak. They found none but still found the freon is low. Now the warranty company refuse to pay for further repair (such as charge up with leak sealant), they claim it's for maintenance. My question is, is low freon a definate sign of a leak? How should I handle the warranty company to have them responsible for the repair? Thanks much for your help.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2009 at 12:46PM
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I have a servcie tech stating there is a major leak (no Freon in system). A/C was fine one day adn gone the next. He added freon and that was gone in a few hours. He hasn;t used a leak detector, but used a dye kit and cannot find anything visually and thinks the leak is in the line from the outside unit going into the house (under concrete block). He is talking about running new copper lines on the outside. Thoughts?

    Bookmark   August 2, 2009 at 8:12AM
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my heatpump has lost all its freon because of a bed compressor heating and air company is trying to charge me for recovery and recycle of freon even though pressures are zero. my question is how can they charge me for recovery when there is no freon in system

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 11:22PM
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I would just replace the old worn out leaking obsolete system.
Why keep paying for a recharge when you can replace it with a new R-410a system high unit and never face the problem again.

Here is a link that might be useful: Americool heating and cooling

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 12:26PM
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My moms house in Fl HVAC system is losing 40lbs of pressure in a week. The house is in a trust. The" acting"trustee has been aware that this system that is 14 years old is in need of replacement. A proposal was sent a month ago and he has not authorized the work to be done. Can the EPA fine the trust for not repairing or replaceing the equipment?

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 12:47AM
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I've had a NEW system put in ~4 yrs ago and every year since there has been a leak test done of which the AC guy says there's no leak yet every Jul/Aug a service call is required and now another AC guy from another company says for $700 he can warrantee the new coil (which he says is where the leak "Probably" is coming from)..
Each time it's costing me between $250-500.. So Who do I believe??????
Is Anyone Outthere Accountable?


    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 6:37PM
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We bought our home last year and 2 months later the ac went out the ac techs (triple opinions) all said we had a leak and it would be anywhere from 3-10k to replace so we just had them put in freon which lasted a year now yesterday the ac went out no freon we called a few tech scheduled one to come and cancelled to call another tech the 1st tech (that was cancelled arrived anyway and said he would fill our system up for $150 now today the system is not working he came out and said oh there is no freon it must be leaking worse can a full tank of freon leak in less than 24hrs? Now he is offering a 1,000 air handler that is usually 3K as deal are we getting duped?

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 8:44AM
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First of all, you need to find that leak. If it leaks out just a little, you won't have the proper level of pressure causing the system to have a lower degree diffriential which in turn causes the unit to run alot longer leaving you with higher electrical bills! It's also ruining the system because the compressor isn't cooling properly causing it to overheat! If the Return air duct (existing Temp.) is 75 degrees then it should always be blowing out on the air supply 20 degrees colder which would be 55 degrees. That is showing that the system is taking the heat out! Your going to have to request an experienced technician to find and seal the leak where ever it could be.. If you don't fix it Now, you are going to waste money & time.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 12:39PM
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Here is an excellent blog explaining how leaks form and what you can do to ensure your system doesn't leak

Here is a link that might be useful: The Cause of Freon Leaks

    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 5:45PM
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