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Question DetailsAsked on 8/5/2016

If there is a leak in my airconditionting unit and the technician just adds more Freon, am I exposed to toxic fumes

I was told by two techs that I needed a new compressor and furnace. I wanted to get another estimate. The third tech discovered that I just needed to add more Freon and not necessarily need a new unit at this time. He added more Freon (R22) for $187.00 total (in north New Jersey) . I thought I was saved thousands of dollars for a new expense with this. However he never told me that the problem was due to a leak in the system. A third tech I spoke to warned me that a leak would expose me to toxic Freon fumes. Is this true that a leaking system if not fixed, could put toxic fumes in my home?

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Just refilling a leaky unit (and if it is losing gas it is leaky because a properly built and assembled unit should not leak appereciable amounts of gas. Commonly you might lose a pound or two in 3-5 years from tiny leaks in fittings and from through-metal diffusion and such which you might just choose to top off and continue running, but any significant leak that is not fixed not only is throwing money away on service calls and gas refills, but letting your unit get significantly low on gas makes it work harder so shortens the compressor's life, and ultimately can cause early failure if it gets so low that the gas fails to return pumped-oput lubricant (which is in the gas flow) back to the compressor - or can cause oil scorhing which can plug lines and cause control valves to fail. Some systems run 20-30 years without losing enough gas to affect their operation, so any need to refill your system (assuming it was properly charged initially) means it lost some in maintenance (like changing out filter/dewatering cartridge) or has a leak.

Since you said thousands of $ saved, I presume he recommended total system replacement rather than the usual $1000-2000 range to replace an out-of-warranty evaporator coil, or around $1000-1500 if coil is under warranty. You can find quite a few responses in the Home > HVAC link in Browse Projects, at lower left, about this subject - life cycle economics of changing out a system due to higher efficiency with newer units, economics related to how long you realistically intend to stay in the home, cost advantages versus risks of repairing older systems, risk reduction through warranty coverage of new replacement systems versus repairs, etc.

Those links also have discussions about topping off leaking units versus repairing the leak first.

There are some dangerous refrigerants - like the combustible gases being used as replacement gas in some systems, ammonia, and so forth - but almost all home systems use relatively non-toxic gases. The common in-use refrigerants (R-22 Freon, R-32, R-410a, etc) are dangerous in high concentrations only, though people with significant respiratory problems or oxygen-transfer issues like congestive heart failure can experience increased issues from breathing the gas and the oil mist leaked with it if the leak is substantial - say bleeding off the system in days or weeks or maybe a month rather than over many months or years, but generally the amount released in a leak is so small and slow that it is diluted to harmless condition by the time it is breathed in. Of course, breating in the leak directly at the leak point can be dangerous. Also, unless the leak was within the house walls - generally evaporator coil or tubing as opposed to at the outside unit, your exposure would be expected to be minimal.

Unless it is bleeding off fast or I had a respiratory/oxygen transfer condition, I would not worry about the toxicity - though a fast leak can cost a bundle if it substantially drains the system. $187 for topping off a system, unless he was unusually fair about the markup on the gas, probably means not more than a couple of pounds - so if it has been years since last refill this might indicate a very slow leak. Obviously, if it starts running long cooling cycles or is working hard in a relatively short time, then that indicates a significant leak that will keep on demanding refill expense, and the leak will commonly (especially if in a coil or tubing rather than at a fitting) get worse with time, so repair or replacement will become imperative with time.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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