You already know that air conditioner maintenance is an essential part of keeping your AC running efficiently. However, you may not understand everything that “maintenance” entails. For example, most homeowners have an understanding of when to change the air filters (once each month) and when to arrange for professional duct cleaning (every 2-5 years, depending on your specific living situation). What you may not know is when to recharge your central air conditioner—or why recharging your AC is critical to its efficiency.
Don’t worry—you’ll understand more about recharging your central air conditioner soon enough. We’ve put together a guide that will tell you what a recharge does, why it matters, and most importantly: when you should arrange to have it done. Keep reading and discover how recharging your AC can change your life as an air conditioner owner.
What Does It Mean to “Recharge” my Central Air Conditioner?
For those of you who are still wondering, we’ll address one of the most common questions people have when they hear the phrase “recharge your central air conditioner” for the first time. No, your air conditioner doesn’t have a lithium-ion battery (at least, no model we know of uses one of those). Recharging refers to the refrigerant in your air conditioner, which needs to be topped up or otherwise adjusted in some instances.
When you ask your HVAC technician to visit your home and recharge your central air conditioner, they’ll add more refrigerant to the system. Refrigerant almost always comes in the form of Freon, which should never be handled by anyone besides a licensed contractor. If you think your system might not have the right amount of refrigerant, stop using it and call for help.
Why is a Recharge for Your Central Air Conditioner Important?
The next thing you might be wondering is why you would need to have your air conditioner recharged. The simplest answer is this: if the system does not have enough Freon in it, it is extremely unlikely to run properly. Refrigerant is the chemical responsible for creating the change in temperature that you rely on your air conditioner to produce. Without the proper balance of refrigerant, an air conditioner will suffer from efficiency problems and eventually wear out specific components prematurely.
Here’s a brief explanation of how refrigerant works:
Refrigerant begins as a hot, low-pressure gas. The compressor in your air conditioner then applies pressure to it. As the pressure is applied, the temperature of the refrigerant rises.
- Once the refrigerant leaves the compressor, it moves into the condenser. Inside the condenser, it loses heat (which is released to the air outside your home) until it changes into a liquid state.
- The liquid refrigerant is still highly pressurized. Next, it moves to the expansion valve. This valve restricts the amount of coolant that can pass through it, causing the pressure of the refrigerant to drop.
- The refrigerant is now a low-pressure liquid. When it passes through your evaporator, it absorbs heat from the air inside your home and eventually becomes a gas.
- This hot, low-pressure gas then moves into the compressor, and the entire cycle starts over. This cycle is known as the refrigeration cycle.
For these changes in state to take place efficiently, there must be a very specific level of refrigerant in your system. As such, it behooves any responsible air conditioner owner to keep a close eye on their refrigerant levels and report any leaks to a licensed and trustworthy HVAC technician immediately, before these leaks have a chance to cause any long-term problems.
When to Recharge Your Central Air Conditioner: Whenever You Suspect a Leak
The primary reason someone might need an air conditioner recharge is that their refrigerant lines have sprung a leak. Look for the following signs, which can indicate a refrigerant leak in your air conditioner:
- Your air conditioner abruptly stops cooling your home efficiently. It could be that the level of refrigerant in your system has suddenly decreased, preventing it from working as effectively as it should.
- Ice is forming on your system. Ice is a sign that your system does not have enough refrigerant in it to prevent enough heat from being absorbed. As a result, the temperature inside the system will drop quickly, and the natural condensation will freeze.
- A hissing noise is coming from your AC cabinet. This sound is usually caused by a pinhole leak—a small hole that allows refrigerant to leak from your AC cabinet in gas form.
Knowing when to recharge your central air conditioner will help you take better care of your system and avoid problems that could prove costly if left unchecked. Consult with your local HVAC technician to learn more about this critical procedure, and to schedule a recharge for your system if necessary.