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Question DetailsAsked on 4/3/2018

If ALL my refrigerant has leaked out, how serious is my leak?

I was told my upstairs unit has leaked ALL it's refrigerant (R22). They are coming back to determine where the leak is; for the past 3 years, they have been repairing the leak and adding 2 lbs of Freon. Now they say the system has NO Freon.

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There is no "standard" for describing the seriousness of a leak - but it obviously depends on how long it took to leak out, which of course would generally depend on how much the unit is run, because the "high side" or high pressure side of the unit would normally (but not always, in the case of connection leaks which can open up more when the metal is cold) leak more. Also, if unit has been sitting all winter unused, a pretty small leak could bleed it all out - pretty much any leak except the smallest normal minor leak through threaded connections or gaskets might do that over months to a year or more. Evidently yours is, or at least before this time, was small if you only lost 2 pounds per year. Very small leaks can sometimes only be detected by using a tracer dye, which is injected into the unit and appears as a bright (and commonly also highly visible in UV light) stain at the leak point, or by ultraviolet or colored light (depending on composition of the lubircating oil carried in the gas) to detect the oil staining or drip at the leakage point.
If it leaks out in say a few months, that would normally be considered a "significant" leak, and one leaking down iun a week or less say a "major" leak. Those should be readily detectable by normal test pressurization and detection with a refrigerant detector or "gas sniffer", ultrasonic or even normal stethoscope for at least a "major" leak, by spray leak detector (colors the leak spot in a similar way to internal dye injection but by reacting with the oil which has already leaked out), etc. Obviously, a leak in the open on exposed connections or tubing is more easily detected, unbless a catastrophic leak where you can hear it hissing during a nitrogen pressure test, whereas the toughest to tie down are commonly usually compressor leaks and ones in tubing hidden in walls. Unfortunately, refilling the unit with a few pounds every year or so has not necessarily been doing you a favor, even if the cost ofthe gas itself has not been unreasonably jacked up to the $100/lb or more range as opposed to reasonably markup to maybe around $40-60/lb, And to me also indicates pretty much a complete failure to actually find the leak for 3 years it sounds like, evidently, so I would be looking at getting an HVAC contractor who can actually do the job right the first time, like - you know - actually FIND the leak before "repairing" it, because it would be pretty rare (unless the initial installation was shoddy) to have multiple leaks in a unit at any given time. Look in the Home > HVAC link, under Browse Projects, at lower left - you can find a LOT of previous questions with answers about leaking A/C units, the costs of replacing gas in R-22 units (though many vendors are jacking the price of the newewr R-410a gas up too, especially as it becomes more known that it too is subject to a phaseout date not too far in the future), and the decision process in deciding whether to repair (or replace evaporator or condensor coil) versus getting a totally new unit.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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