What Happens When Your Air Conditioner Has Too Much Refrigerant

Refrigerant check in the ACThe refrigerant is one of the most essential parts of any air conditioner. This special liquid is responsible for pulling heat out of the air and dumping it outside of your home. If you want your AC to run correctly, you need to pay close attention to the AC chemical levels. When it comes to refrigeration, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Excessive AC chemicals can cause all sorts of problems for your system.

How Common Is It for ACs to End Up Being Overcharged?

In most cases, an air conditioner’s cooling system is a closed system where chemical levels remain stable. Therefore, your levels usually will not fluctuate after AC installation. Unlike oil in a car, you don’t need to change the liquid regularly or refill it. However, things can go wrong if your air conditioner breaks. If you get a leak in your system, it is necessary to patch the leak and refill the liquid. This is when you can end up with excess AC chemicals. Though it’s fairly simple to refill your system, being precise is very important.

Most air conditioners with too many AC chemicals develop the problem after a homeowner attempts a DIY repair or hires a poorly trained HVAC technician. Some people just accidentally add too much liquid while refilling it, and others might make the mistake of “topping off” levels when there wasn’t actually a leak in the first place. Whatever the cause, you can run into major issues if too much liquid is accidentally added to your system.

How Much Is Too Much?

When does refrigerant go from a helpful cooling liquid to a damaging chemical? The typical rule is that a residential air conditioner needs around 2 pounds to 4 pounds per cooling ton. So for example, if you had a 2-ton AC, you would need between 4 pounds to 8 pounds of AC chemicals.

However, a lot of factors affect the precise amount of liquid you need. The distance between the evaporator and condenser coils has a huge impact on your air conditioner’s ability to function. If your coils are very close together, you’ll have a very short line that is easier to overfill. You will also be more likely to overfill your system if you have an unusually small evaporator coil or an unusual type of AC system. Since calculating AC chemical amounts is so complex, it’s essential to get professional input.

Why Is an Overcharged AC System a Problem?

Since your AC’s cooling liquid pulls heat from your air, you might assume extra AC chemicals just mean extra cooling. However, an air conditioner is a finely balanced system. When you add excess cooling liquid, all the various parts of the system can’t function properly. Extra AC chemicals cause two major issues.

Slugging

Refrigerant works by absorbing heat that turns the chemical from its liquid state to its gaseous state. While it’s a warm gas, the AC chemical is then supposed to cycle to the compressor outside to let off the heat. When you have too much, you end up with excessive liquid sloshing around inside your machine. The liquid material can flood into the compressor and get into its piston cylinders. This is called slugging, and it can damage your entire compressor motor. You can end up with broken connecting rods or valves, and the damage can be bad enough to require you to replace your whole system.

Excess Pressure

The other major issue is pressure buildup. Within the closed AC lines, shifting pressure and temperature levels cause the cooling liquid to cycle around. When levels are too high, pressure can become too high. Excess pressure can cause problems throughout your system, and it gets in the way of the normal AC cycle. Your chemicals stay liquid instead of turning into gas and can’t move heat as efficiently. The end result is declining cooling power which can eventually put strain on your whole system.

How to Tell If Your System Is Overcharged

Identifying excessive AC chemicals can be tricky. Your whole system won’t implode the second you add a little excess liquid. Instead, problems only become apparent as the incorrect levels gradually damage your AC parts. Here are some potential warning signs that you need to be on the lookout for in the months after your AC chemical levels are adjusted.

Warm Air Coming From Vents

Though it might seem counterintuitive, excess AC chemicals don’t always produce chillier air. Since it impairs your AC’s ability to remove heat, extra cooling liquid can make your air hotter. You might notice that air blowing from vents feels lukewarm or even hot. This happens when too much heat is being produced by your system, so it can’t all be discharged outside effectively.

Frost Buildup

Extra AC chemicals don’t make your air colder, but a close look at your system will reveal that all that coldness is going somewhere. You may find that frost is building up on your evaporator coils or other parts of your AC. Many homeowners won’t notice frost because it occurs inside the machine. However, that frost will inevitably melt, so you might see water dripping from your indoor unit.

Abnormally High Energy Bills

Since an overcharged air conditioner runs efficiently, it will need a lot more power to keep your home at a comfortable level. Many homeowners find that their electric bill gets much higher when they have excess refrigerant. Though it’s normal for energy bills to rise slightly in the summer and winter, an unexplained spike is usually a problem something is wrong. If you haven’t changed the way you run your electronics and other home systems, your AC might be the culprit.

Squealing Noises From the Outdoor Unit

Using incorrect levels for too long begins to damage the compressor. When this happens, you’ll often experience unexpected noises. Squealing from the outdoor unit where your compressor is located can indicate a problem with your AC chemical levels. Excessive cooling liquid causes squealing because it doesn’t properly convert to gas. When there’s too much, it can’t all turn into gas before it reaches the compressor. The compressor isn’t built to handle a lot of liquid, so liquid gets forced through the tiny nozzles of the compressor and a squealing noise happens.

Random Shutoffs During the Heat of the Day

If your AC system has certain safety measures installed, it might automatically shut off when the pressure gets too high. This can result in frequent shut-offs during the hot part of the day. Due to the extra cooling liquid, your AC system will shut down to prevent damage from the high pressure. Then, once it cools down and pressures return to normal, your air conditioner will start running again. If you notice this cycle happening over and over, make sure to get your machine checked.

An AC System That Won’t Run

If you ignore the problem for too long, it is very easy to burn out your compressor. When this happens, your air conditioner will quit running altogether. It won’t cool your air, and you won’t hear all your fans and motors running. At this point, there’s no quick and easy way to get your AC back on. If the excess AC chemicals have blown out the motors, you’ll need to replace them to get your AC up and running again.

How to Fix an Overcharged AC system

The first step to fixing an overcharged air conditioner is noticing the problem. Excess cooling liquid is something the standard homeowner can’t diagnose on their own. You cannot identify it at a glance or open up your lines to measure levels. Instead, you’ll need a licensed technician to test your system. They usually start by checking pressure levels. Uneven pressure levels indicate an issue, and then the technician can look at your lines to see how much cooling liquid your system has. Typically, an overcharged system is only noticed when something starts to go wrong, but a good HVAC tech can also catch it during a routine AC maintenance visit.

When you catch the problem at an early stage, fixing it is as simple as draining excess AC chemicals. Your service professional will discharge extra liquid to bring your system down to safer levels. Then they’ll test your system to ensure levels are correct, and it should start working normally again. This is a fast and affordable repair.

However, if you’ve ignored the problem for too long, you might need to request other AC repair options. In addition to removing excess AC chemicals, your HVAC technician might also need to fix damaged parts. If your compressor is damaged beyond repair, it might require replacement. This is a somewhat uncommon AC fix that can be a little costly. Especially if your system is on the older side, it might be more cost-effective to replace the entire unit.

Ultimately, an overcharged system can cause enough problems to damage your whole AC system. Therefore, it’s important to take this issue seriously. If you suspect that your AC system has too much refrigerant, it’s important to get a professional to look at it as soon as possible. The experts at Wenbrooke are happy to examine your system and let you know if there is a problem. We fix a variety of heating, cooling, electrical, and plumbing systems, and our team is trained to provide both traditional and ductless AC service. Call now to schedule your service visit.