Why is Refrigerant Leak Detection Necessary?
Refrigerant leaks can lead to downtime.
Hotels, restaurants, bakeries, catering facilities, cold storage facilities, supermarkets, medical facilities and many other commercial and industrial facilities rely heavily on air conditioning and refrigeration systems to run their daily operations. A refrigerant leak followed by an unexpected breakdown can cause unplanned facility downtime, negatively impacting your revenue and reputation.
Importance of Spotting Leaks
It’s vital to identify and repair any leaks in your A/C unit early. The benefits vast outweigh the short-term burden of paying to have them fixed, and you’ll be kicking yourself down the road if a smaller leak grows larger and becomes a serious issue.
- Savings! – When refrigerant leaks, the A/C unit has to kick into overdrive to compensate for the loss. As a result, your energy bill is going to spike to match that extra work.
- Environmental factors – An improperly charged unit becomes much less energy-efficient, and the carbon dioxide emissions contribute greatly to the greenhouse effect. By getting ahead of refrigerant leaks, you’re helping out the environment!
- Prevents damage – If an undiagnosed leak flies under the radar, it can gradually become something that can cause significant damage to your home. Water that freezes due to the leak can thaw and seep into the rest of the house and wreak havoc.
Detecting Refrigerant Leaks
November 2015 — Recovery of refrigerant is mandatory. It is important to follow all Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety guidelines when working around machinery and refrigerants. If the refrigeration system contains more than 50 pounds of refrigerant and has an annual leak rate of 15 percent or more for comfort cooling, or a 35 percent leak rate for commercial refrigeration, the EPA has mandated that it must be repaired.
How do we know if there is a refrigerant leak? Most of the time someone calls and reports that the air conditioning is not working properly. By checking system pressures and temperatures, you can determine whether the system refrigerant charge is either low or empty. Refrigerant leaks typically fall into four types:
- Standing leaks:occur even while the unit is turned off
- Pressure leaks:occur at a certain pressure
- Vibration leaks:occur when a strain is put on a line or component
- Temperature leaks:occur as a result of the expansion and contraction caused by temperature change
One way to start checking for a refrigerant leak is to listen to the system. Most of the time it will be hard to hear any gas escaping because equipment noise is too loud or the leak is too small.
Why is a Leak Detection Test Necessary?
If your air conditioning system stops working and an HVAC tech diagnosis the problem as low refrigerant, you’ll obviously want them to refill your refrigerant. Even though this will get your air conditioning up and working again, blowing cold air, this is just a Band-Aid solution to the real problem: finding and fixing the leak. By just filling up the system with new refrigerant, you’ll end up having to continue to buy more and more refrigerant as it continues to leak out of your system.
What Types of Leak Detection Tests Are There?
There are a wide variety of leak detection tests. Which one the technician uses for your system depends on what type of system and refrigerant you have and where the technician thinks the leak may be. Here are a few types of leak detection tests your technician may complete:
This is the simplest leak detection test. With access to accessible refrigerant lines, the technician is able to place a bubble solution on the line. If the line begins to bubble, the technician can tell that the gas is leaking out of the line and can patch the hole.
Fluorescent Leak Detection
If your technician refills your refrigerant and they suspect there’s a leak, they’ll most likely include some fluorescent dye with the refrigerant. They’ll come back later to use a UV light and see if any of the dye has leaked out of the lines. Once they find where the dye is located, they can easily locate and repair the leak. However, there are different dyes for different systems and refrigerants, and using the wrong dye with the wrong system can ruin an entire air conditioning system. That’s why it’s extremely important to hire a qualified technician.
A halide torch has a flame that, when it comes in contact with chloride atoms, turns green. However, this isn’t always an effective test because not all refrigerants have chloride.
There are a few different types of electronic detectors. One, the corona-suppression uses an electric current to detect leaks. When the electric current drops, gas is detected. The lower the drop in electric current, the higher the amount of gas.
A heated diode detector heats the refrigerant and breaks the molecules into negative and positive charged atoms. The positive atoms in the gas will attach to the negatively charged wire on the detector, and the detector will sense them, showing a gas leak when the detector goes off.
An ultrasonic detector can hear where the gas is escaping in the line, even with pinhole sized leaks.
Repairing the AC Refrigerant Leak
Repairing a refrigerant leak in your AC unit usually requires hiring a skilled technician. For the DIYers, repairing a refrigerant leak in the air conditioner unit can be inexpensive if all that’s needed is to tighten a fitting or replace a valve core. At the same time, it can be very pricey if it repairs involve replacing the evaporator coil or copper line set.
Whether you try to repair the leak or hire a technician, there are some common sites to watch for leakage. These include:
- Copper tubing
- Shipping valves
- Filter canisters
- Weld joints
- Valve cores
As mentioned previously, technicians may use an electronic sniffer to identify AC refrigerant leaks. Bigger leaks typically require using soap bubbles or the black light method.
The black light method requires installing a liquid tracer into the system and let it circulate for a couple of weeks. During this period, the tracer will ooze out slowly from places where there is a leak.It is common knowledge that refrigerants are very expensive. Time and effort spent to locate leaks, plus repairing AC equipment makes it imperative for preventive maintenance of systems. The best way to begin repairing to select a method that can quickly pinpoint leaks. This will not only keep loss of refrigerant at a minimum, but it will also help you avoid headaches and scorching heat.