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Most homeowners will never have to change the coolant in their air conditioning unit. Since most systems incorporate a closed loop design, if there are no major accidents or malfunctions, the coolant should last the life of the unit. However, sometimes accidents happen. If your unit develops a leak or experiences some other system failure, you may need to replace the coolant.

Signs Your AC May Have a Coolant Leak

The most obvious sign that you have a coolant leak is that your AC isn’t working properly. If your HVAC unit suddenly stops cooling your home effectively, or if you can feel warm air blowing through your vents, it is a sign that your system may be leaking coolant. Other symptoms of a coolant leak are excessive condensation or ice build-up on the outside of the unit.

Before You Call a Technician

When your air conditioner is no longer cooling your home, you’re going to want to have it fixed as soon as possible, especially if the outside temperatures are rising. You may be able to get your AC unit up and running like new with some routine maintenance. So, before you pick up your phone to call a technician, there are a few easy things you can try.

First, check to see if you need to change the filter. When an AC system gets dirty, it starts to lose its ability to cool efficiently. Also, make sure clear any leaves or other yard debris that may be clogging the unit’s fans.

Get an AC Tune-Up

If your AC still isn’t cooling well after performing these easy maintenance tasks, it is time to call an AC professional to check things out. Your AC troubles might be easily fixed by having your unit cleaned.

You can clean the condenser unit. yourself, but this isn’t a task to be taken lightly. The condenser fins, which are thin metallic blades that surround the AC unit, get dirty quickly. As the central fan sucks air through the condenser fins, dirt, dust, dead grass, and other debris can block airflow reducing the unit’s cooling ability. You can use a vacuum with a soft brush to clean the fins, but be careful. They’re fragile and can easily be bent or crushed.

If you feel uncomfortable cleaning this part of your AC unit, you can always call a qualified technician to do it for you. Cleaning a unit yourself, can be trickier than you think, and could potentially result in doing more damage than good. Sometimes it is best to call in the qualified professionals to take care of things early than to have them come in a fix a major repair that you caused yourself.

Call a Technician to Plug the Leak and Recharge the Coolant

If your unit still isn’t working properly after completing these routine maintenance tasks, it’s time to call a technician. Your HVAC professional will inspect your system and verify whether you have a coolant leak. A qualified HVAC technician can diagnose your problem, fix a leak, recharge your system with coolant, and have your system ready to keep you cool in no time.

There are several types of coolant used in air conditioners. The most common coolant is Freon, also known as R-22.  Because Freon is a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC), which has a negative effect on the Earth’s protective ozone layer, it is being phased out in several countries including the United States. Because of these environmental concerns as well as dwindling supplies, Freon prices have skyrocketed.

Newer HVAC units are more likely to use Puron, also known as R410A. While Puron is more environmentally friendly than Freon, the two types of coolants are not interchangeable. To make the switch from Freon to Puron, you’ll need to replace your entire air conditioning unit.

You Need Professional Help

Fixing a leak and recharging coolant is not a weekend do-it-yourself project. Most homeowners are not even allowed to purchase coolant for their air conditioning units. To ensure that coolant is handled safely, technicians must be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Retailers won’t even sell coolant to unlicensed customers.

However, it isn’t only legislation and regulations that should convince you to hire a professional to recharge your coolant. Coolant in your AC is highly pressurized and is dangerous for untrained individuals to tamper with. This is one task that is best left to the professionals.

If you have questions or concerns about your HVAC unit’s coolant levels suspect you may have a coolant leak, be sure to contact a local HVAC professional.