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AC Service: Fixing Refrigerant Leaks

By Your Comfort Advisor 7/11/16 9:00 AM Time to read:

 Many homeowners wonder why it takes so long to perform a refrigerant leak detection test on their HVAC system. Those who have experienced leaks during the summer known the struggle of getting an HVAC technician to inspect their system. The high demand for repairs during summer is reason enough to get units inspected before the rush. While repairing refrigerant leaks is fairly straightforward, finding them is what gives technicians a run for their money.

Detection Methods

Over the years, many leak detection methods have been employed in the HVAC industry. Each method serves a specific function for a specific situation. The problem is that there is no ideal leak detection method. Essentially, each case has many variabilities.

Bubble Solutions

Technicians can insert high-pressure nitrogen into an HVAC system and use soap bubbles to locate the leak. It is by far the most affordable method of detection, but also a bit unreliable since environmental factor can prevent maximum efficiency.

Halide Torch

While the torch is not as sensitive as its electronic counterpart (listed below), it can be very effective. The torch's flame turns green when exposed to certain refrigerants (ones that contain chlorine atoms). It is not recommended for use in areas with highly flammable materials such as an attic.

Electronic Leak Detector

These detectors vary in terms of what type of refrigerants they can detect. Additionally, they are the most effective methods of leak detection. Some ultrasonic detectors use sensitive microphones to pick up high-pitched sounds caused from leaks that are inaudible to the human ear.

Dye Interception Method

This is the most time-intensive method since it could take several hours or even days to ensure all leaks are found. Technicians will insert a liquid tracer into the system and let it circulate throughout. The addition of a fluorescent dye makes it easier to spot when used in conjunction with an ultraviolet inspection lamp.

Leak Detection Factors

There may be one or multiple leaks across the system, depending on the size or whether it is used for residential or commercial properties. Furthermore, some leaks may be large and others may be small, small enough to miss. In order to perform an efficient leak detection, homeowners and technicians must first determine what type of refrigerant is used; This will determine which method to use. Each detection method comes with its set of problematic factors. For instance, electronic detectors, halide torches, and bubble solutions can become inefficient if there is too much wind. Even the most technologically advanced tools can have trouble finding leaks. For example, an indoor refrigerant leak can increase the concentration of the freon in the air making it almost impossible to detect a leak.

No homeowner is immune to HVAC leaks. Over the course of a system's lifetime, leakage may develop. Leakage causes can range from operational vibrations to foreign particulates in the system and even load change situations. The best way to prevent or minimize leaks is with preventative maintenance.