Recharging an air conditioning system refers to the process of adding more refrigerant. Generally speaking, you really should never need to worry about having to recharge your AC system. The refrigerant always flows through a closed loop, which means that the level should always stay the same. The only time a system would need to be recharged with refrigerant is if there is a hole in the evaporator coil, condenser coil or one of the refrigerant lines where the refrigerant can leak out.
At Laury Heating Cooling & Plumbing, we get lots of questions about refrigerant recharging and refrigerant in general. For that reason, today we’re going to answer some of these questions to hopefully clear up any confusion about whether you can recharge an AC system on your own and also any questions or misconceptions you may have about Freon and other types of refrigerant.
Is It Legal to Recharge My Air Conditioner?
Let’s start with the most basic question. Unfortunately, it is absolutely illegal to recharge an AC system on your own. The law in the U.S. states that only technicians with the proper EPA certifications are allowed to recharge AC systems or handle refrigerant. There is a very good reason for this as all types of refrigerant are extremely powerful greenhouse gases that can trap a huge amount of heat in the atmosphere and greatly contribute to climate change and global temperature increases.
Even if it were legal to recharge an AC system on your own, it is likely that you neither have the necessary knowledge nor skills to do the job safely and correctly. There are home AC refrigerant recharge kits available, but we would always recommend leaving the job to a professional since you could face a steep fine for doing the job on your own. Additionally, there is a good chance that you could add too much refrigerant to the system, which can drastically reduce the effectiveness of your air conditioning and potentially lead to breakdowns and costly repairs or cause the unit to fail completely and need to be replaced.
Trying to recharge an AC system on your own also simply doesn’t make sense for one other major reason. As we said, the only time a system would need recharging is if there is a leak somewhere. Most leaks are a result of tiny pin holes that develop due to corrosion and can be nearly impossible to spot. Even if you could locate where the leak is, you won’t be able to patch it up. Fixing a refrigerant leak typically involves either replacing the damaged section of the copper refrigerant line or completely replacing the evaporator coil or condenser coil if the coil itself leaks. In order to replace any of these parts, it is also usually necessary to drain or “reclaim” all of the refrigerant from the system and then recharge the system once the leak has been fixed.
Is Freon Illegal?
Another common question about refrigerant has to do with the legality of Freon, also known as R-22 refrigerant. You may have seen headlines reading “Freon discontinued,” and these are very much true. However, Freon is technically not illegal to use, but the U.S. government did ban the production and import of it on January 1, 2020.
Old AC systems that use Freon can still be recharged. The only issue is that there is an extremely limited supply of it these days, which has led to the cost of Freon skyrocketing. Since it can no longer be manufactured or imported into the U.S., the only Freon available is that which has been reclaimed and recycled from an old system. This means that it can be extremely hard to find and also very expensive compared to any other type of refrigerant.
The Freon ban was instituted as part of the Clean Air Act in an effort to stop the depletion of the ozone layer. Newer refrigerants like R-410a are a type of chemical known as a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), whereas Freon belongs to a group known as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). Freon and other HCFCs were the main contributing factor to ozone depletion and have been banned by almost every country in the world. This ban is part of the reason why the ozone layer has since started to recover.
HFC refrigerants are still powerful greenhouse gases that can absorb and trap a huge amount of heat in the atmosphere, but they are not as damaging as Freon. Still, the biggest difference is that HFCs do not have any ozone-depleting properties, which makes them much less harmful to the environment.
Why Replacing an AC Unit That Uses Freon Is Better Than Recharging
If your current AC unit was installed any time before 2010, you can be almost certain that it uses Freon as R-22 was by far the most common refrigerant in air conditioners manufactured up until that point. The U.S. government then mandated that all air conditioners manufactured or installed from 2010 onward had to instead use an HFC refrigerant, with the most common one being R-410a—also known as Puron.
The extremely high cost of Freon is obviously one of the major reasons why most experts recommend replacing any unit that uses Freon instead of recharging it. The average air conditioner recharge cost is typically only a few hundred dollars at most, but you’ll usually end up paying nearly double to recharge a system that uses Freon. Replacing the old unit can also help to protect the environment since a Freon leak can be extremely damaging and directly contribute to ozone depletion and climate change.
Another thing to consider is that an AC that was installed before 2010 is almost certain to be nearing the end of its life. Most central AC units will only last for 15 years at the most. Older units also tend to suffer from poor performance, which can greatly increase energy usage and often lead to them breaking down and needing expensive repairs. Upgrading to a new unit can drastically reduce potential repair needs and also save you a huge amount of money on your annual energy costs.
Modern air conditioners are far more energy efficient especially when compared with units manufactured before 2010. Back then, the minimum energy efficiency requirement was only 10 SEER, whereas the minimum requirement in New Jersey and throughout the northern parts of the U.S. is now 14 SEER. Compared to a 10 SEER AC, a 14 SEER unit will use approximately 28% less energy. If you upgrade to a model with an even higher SEER rating, you could potentially cut your yearly cooling costs in half.
How to Know If Your AC Needs to Be Recharged
The only way to know for sure if your AC needs to be recharged is to have a technician check the refrigerant level. That being said, there are some fairly obvious signs that can indicate the system has a refrigerant leak. The most common issue that occurs when the refrigerant level is too low is that the evaporator coil starts to constantly freeze up. The less refrigerant there is in the system, the lower the refrigerant pressure will be. Low pressure leads to the refrigerant becoming much colder, and this low temperature can cause the condensation that naturally forms on the evaporator coil to freeze.
If you do have issues with your AC constantly freezing up, the first thing you should do is replace the air filter as a dirty air filter can quickly cause the evaporator coil to freeze. If the system continues to freeze after replacing the filter, you will then need to have a technician check the refrigerant level and inspect the system for any of the other issues that could cause it to freeze.
If you suspect that your AC needs to be recharged or the system has any other issues, you can count on Laury Heating Cooling & Plumbing for help. We offer professional AC maintenance and repair services for all makes and models, and we can also help if you need AC replacement or any heating or plumbing service in the Pennsville or Vineland areas. Contact Laury Heating Cooling & Plumbing today if you have any questions or need to schedule a service call.