The primary job of central air conditioning is to keep you and your family feeling comfortable. If your system is appropriately sized for your home, yet is still unable to do this, then there is something wrong. If you’ve kept your system clean, changed your air filters and installed a smart thermostat, you may need to consider that your air conditioner needs a recharge. So, here we’ll explore this topic in a little more detail here, so you can determine if your system needs some attention to be recharged.

The Recharge Basics

Before we explore the specifics of when you will need to recharge your air conditioner, let’s look at some recharging basics. In simple terms, the process of recharging should be called refilling, because this is actually what is involved. There is no electricity needed to charge up your system, just the regular usage involved in operating your system after any repairs or maintenance has been completed.

Air conditioners use refrigerant to pull heat out of your indoor air. The refrigerant transforms from a gas to a liquid state to transfer heat out of your home. After the heat transfer, the refrigerant is moved into the compressor to start the process again. Unfortunately, if your refrigerant level is low, the heat transfer cannot take place. This is when your system needs to be recharged, essentially refilling the refrigerant levels in your system.

While this may seem like a simple task, it is highly recommended by HVAC experts and air conditioning manufacturers that only a professional technician perform this type of maintenance. It can be highly dangerous for both your system and you if the system recharge is not performed correctly. In fact, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) requires by law that homeowners have a professional, certified technician to perform this task.

Signs Your System Needs to be Recharged

Air conditioning systems are not built to lose refrigerant. Each system is designed to be a closed system, so your refrigerant should actually last longer than your equipment. In most cases, the need for recharging is due to a leak. So, it is actually more important to check to see if your system has a leak. The signs that your system has developed a leak and needs to be recharged include:

  • Room temperature air blowing through your vents: This is a classic sign that your system needs a recharge. In most cases of a leak, this sign is present, but there are some problems that can also cause this symptom. For example, if your thermostat is broken, the temperature of the air coming out of your vents will degrade over time. Simply put, you won’t find that the air goes from cool to room temperature instantaneously, but the temperature will slowly rise as the system runs out of refrigerant.
  • Frozen Units: One of the signs of a leaking air conditioner is a build up of frost or ice on the unit. Take a quick look inside the front of your air conditioner unit, and you will see that the pipes look frosty. These pipes are the condenser coil where the refrigerant flows. The refrigerant gas will freeze almost anything it comes into contact with. These pipes are designed to withstand the refrigerant gas to transport it around your air conditioning system. Unfortunately, if there is a leak, the gas can come into contact with other areas of your air conditioner unit, so you will see more frost covered surfaces or even frozen components.

Regular maintenance provides a great opportunity to have your system checked for leaks. An experienced HVAC specialist will inspect your equipment looking for any signs of damage, wear or leaks. This allows you to have the underlying issue resolved and the system recharged.

In most cases, leaks are caused by some form of damage to the unit, but if your system is getting older, it will be more vulnerable to wear that can contribute to a leak. If your equipment is relatively new and is within the manufacturer’s warranty, it is a good idea to contact the manufacturer to report the leak, and you may be offered a replacement unit to replace the faulty equipment.

Should You Recharge or Replace Your Air Conditioner?

While it may seem simple to just opt for topping up your refrigerant levels, it is important to determine the underlying issue that has caused the refrigerant level to drop. When your system has developed a leak, it may be more viable and cheaper to replace your equipment rather than paying for a complicated repair. Depending on the extent and location of the leak, it may be a better option to replace your equipment. Replacing a number of parts, repairing the leak, recharging the system and paying labor costs could really add up in the case of significant leak. In this scenario, replacing the damaged unit with a more efficient, new system is a far better option. This will also allow you to benefit from more efficient air conditioning, lowering your energy bills.

If the leak is small, a recharge may be the better option, as the leak can be repaired and the refrigerant levels restored during a short maintenance appointment. It may work out to be more affordable to have your refrigerant recharged during your annual maintenance visit rather than purchasing a brand new unit. In this scenario, your HVAC technician may be able to solder the hole to repair the leak before refilling the refrigerant.

In either case, you should consult a professional HVAC specialist to determine the most appropriate option for your system. A reputable technician is likely to provide you with estimates for either option, so you have the details needed to make an informed decision.

If you suspect that you have an air conditioner leak and your system needs to be recharged, be sure to speak to a professional HVAC technician. An experienced specialist can not only assess your system, but guide you through the options to offer the best solution.