Recognizing And Correcting Low Refrigerant Levels

When it comes to low refrigerant levels in an air conditioning unit, typically people assume that the issues surface as temperature imbalances. Sure, if the refrigerant levels in your unit are low, it will not be able to produce cool air at the rate you desire, but the issue can lead to different issues as well. Make certain you know how to recognize the different signs of low refrigerant and how to address them.

Warning Signs Not to Ignore

Here are some of the overlooked issues that often indicate a low refrigerant issue.

Ice Buildup

A buildup of ice around the exterior of your unit could mean there is a refrigerant issue. Refrigerant helps to somewhat stabilize the coils of the unit. As a result, when it's low, the coils will get too cold. Once they're frozen, they prevent the refrigerant that is left in the system from flowing through correctly, which causes the solution to backup. The backed-up cold refrigerant combined with the frozen coils causes extra moisture to build up inside the unit and eventually freeze. 

Increased Bills

If you notice an unexplained increase in your electric bills, it's a good idea to identify whether or not refrigerant is to blame. Low refrigerant causes an uptick in your bills because it forces the air conditioning to work harder to cool your home. As the unit works harder, it burns more electricity and ultimately increases your cost. Even if it's determined that a refrigerant issue is not to blame, it's still worth it to have a technician take a closer look to see what might be causing the problem.

Correcting the Issue

HVAC technicians have several options to consider to correct a refrigerant problem; here are some of them. 

Damaged Tubing

One of the more common reasons for low refrigerant is leaks. Refrigerant is a highly acidic material, so depending on the type of tubing you have, the solution can start to eat through the tubing and cause a leak to form. If the leak is discovered early, you can typically have the tubing repaired and eliminate the problem. If you have a newer unit, you probably have aluminum tubing, which is more resistant against this problem.


The older a unit is, the more prone it is to a refrigerant leak. A set of sturdy seals help keep the refrigerant contained. However, over time, the rubber on these seals start to wear away. As they wear, a small amount of the refrigerant might leak out and in return, air gets inside the container, which can cause evaporation. The leaking and evaporating processes combined lower the amount of refrigerant in the unit. To correct the issue, the unit will generally need to be refilled and the seals replaced. 

If you suspect the refrigerant in your unit is low, make sure you contact a technician for air conditioning services as soon as possible.