Long-term effects of low refrigerant?
We had an American Standard central air/heating system installed 5 years ago, and it obviously has had a refrigerant leak from Day One. The contractor has re-charged it 4-5 times, but has never made a concerted effort to find and repair the leak. The indoor coils have been icing up, causing water damage to our particleboard underlayment, and some rusted areas and a wet filter inside the blower unit itself. I'm concerned that even if the leak is repaired, my system may have damage that could shorten its life and/or affect its efficiency. My questions are:
1. What are the long-term effects (if any) of a system that has been running with low refrigerant its entire life (5 years)? I'm reading that this can cause permamnent damage to the system, particularly the compressor.
2. Would it be unreasonable for me to insist that the contractor not only repair the leak, but also replace any or all of the components that may be now compromised by that damage?
3. Is my contractor's response to this situation the normal/acceptable method of operation for an HVAC contractor? What should my course of action be to have my system properly and thoroughly repaired?
Many systems are running today that have had to have their charged topped off every year for 10 years plus.
No proof that any component has been damaged.
Get another contractor, the one your using isn't concerned about you or your system.
Thanks for the response. However, your comment seems to be contrary to most everything I've read, such as this (below), which is typical. So is this information simply not true, or just a worst-case statement? I spoke to a commercial mechanical contractor yesterday and he basically told me the same thing about leaks:
"Recharging refrigerant is not necessary, unless you have a leak in the system.
Contrary to popular belief, air conditioners do not consume refrigerant, like a car consumes oil. Under ideal conditions, you will never need to add or change the refrigerant in your air conditioning system. If you do find that your refrigerant levels are low, this indicates a leak in your system which should be repaired before you add refrigerant. While most new system connections are welded to minimize leaks, many older units (8 years or older) were connected with mechanical flared fittings which can vibrate loose over the years, causing leaks. Refrigerant leaks are a problem because:
Low refrigerant levels reduce efficiency of the air conditioner.
They can freeze the evaporator coil, causing it to ice up.
Freon (R-22) is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) controlled substance, deemed hazardous if released into the environment.
The heart of the unit is the compressor, which is cooled by refrigerant. Over time, low refrigerant levels can cause overheating and premature failure of the compressor, often requiring complete replacement of the compressor or the entire condensing unit - a very expensive proposition."
Key word is "can". Which means it doesn't cause it automatically.
Over time, low refrigerant levels can
cause overheating and premature failure of the compressor
Your best bet is as I said earlier. Get another contractor. Have the leak found and repaired. No one can prove that any harm has been done to any part of your system.
You should also stop using it until its fixed. You are the one ultimately responsible for operating it when you know it is low on charge. The same as if you drove your car knowing the brakes don't work right.
Originally Posted by beenthere
Just get the leak fixed. If your existing contractor hasn't been able to get it fixed, get a new one.
They were just here yesterday, recharged the system, it is working for now (it will leak out again), and they didn't say a word about not using it, and they never have. Because of that, I don't feel responsible at all.
First you said that many normal systems need to be topped off each year, then you say that you should stop using it when it's low. So are you saying that for all those "normal" systems out there, the homeowners should stop using their AC when it gets low on charge? How the heck would some Granny know when to do that? Seems unreasonable, especially with a brand new system like mine.
No one can prove harm has been done, but no one can prove NO harm has been done, either. Why should I be left to assume all of that risk? Where does that leave me two years from now if the bearings or seals fail because the contractor ignored the leak? As a consumer, this just doesn't seem right.
After five years you're just now concerned? How much refrigerant did they just add? What percentage of the actual full charge does this equate to? Odds are no significant damage has been done to your system (yet). Leaks never fix themselves and tend to get worse as time goes on. Most major components are warrantied for a minimum of five years, most today are ten. If it's either one of the coils, they would be covered if under the time limits. The bottom line is it's your system and your responsibility. Have a different company locate and repair the leak if your present company won't. It will be cheaper for you in the long run.
A good HVAC tech knows how, an educated HVAC tech knows why!
As a contractor MOST CONSUMERS just want cooling NOW and when you explain how they need a leak search .......but the consumer doesn't want to spend the money and tell you to "just charge it up".....
Originally Posted by dfarrar
Are you paying for the charge-ups? Is this just a concern now because the parts warranty is up at 5 years?
No, I said "you" should stop using it. You must assume all that risk because "you" are the owner and user of the equipment. And are using it when you think it is detrimental to its well being.
Originally Posted by dfarrar
Gas n go has been a common thing for 40 years plus. And those compressors didn't stop working because of the leak in the system.
You, and you alone are fully responsible for initiating the request for the repairs that your system needs.
Because, as the consumer/homeowner, the buck stops with YOU.
Originally Posted by dfarrar
[Avatar photo from a Florida training accident. Everyone walked away.]
2 Tim 3:16-17
RSES CMS, HVAC Electrical Specialist
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Wow, to be honest, I'm a little surprised by the responses here. Does no one believe this HVAC contractor should be held accountable for anything he has or has not done?
I'm an electrical sign contractor in California, 15 employees, 34 years in business. Let me use a somewhat lame analogy so you see it from my perspective. Say I sell you a lighted sign for $10,000, tell you the sign should last 20 years, and give you a three year warranty. The month after I install the sign, half the lighting burns out. You call, I fix it right away. Six months later, it goes out again, I fix it. On it goes like this for three years. You're getting a little annoyed that half your sign doesn't work most of the time, especially when all the other signs around your business stay lighted all the time without any problems.
Four years after buying your sign, everything burns out, the transformers melt and destroy just about everything. It's going to cost $8,000 to repair it. You talk to a different qualified sign contractor, and he tells you that signs rarely, if ever, burn out, and that if I had just performed a simple test on the electrical components the first time it failed, none of this ever would have happened. Now you are stuck spending $10,000 for a new sign, when you were told you should get 20 years out of it.
So would you just hire another contractor and eat the loss? Or would you be a little ticked off that I didn't do my job and test the system, which would have prevented everything and saved you $10,000?
If you would like to read a more thorough description of what has transpired, you can read it here:
Links to articles naming the company are not permitted.
Last edited by beenthere; 06-30-2012 at 06:05 PM.
Reason: removed link
I spoke to a commercial mechanical contractor yesterday, and he said the system should have been pressure tested with nitrogen to find and repair the leak, and a micro gauge used to confirm the system is tight. Would none of you have performed that procedure at any point in this scenario?