There’s a question many homeowners ask us that’s born from a common refrigerant myth—that question is, “how often does it need to be refilled?”
But the answer to this is actually, “hopefully, never!”
This is the myth. The refrigerant that flows through your heat pump system shouldn’t need to be refilled on a routine basis. This is because it’s not something that depletes over time like gasoline does from a car or oil does from an oil-powered appliance in your home. Refrigerant, alternatively, cycles through your heat pump continuously, transferring heat rather than generating it like other types of heating systems do.
So if you’re losing refrigerant, it means you have a leak.
Enough Refrigerant for a Lifetime
The lifetime of your heat pump system, that is. There’s always a chance that at some point, you may need a refill—what we call a recharge in the HVAC industry. But if you do, it’s because of a pesky leak, like we mentioned above—and you’ll need that leak repaired ASAP.
The source of the leak has to be located (by a trained and experienced professional) so that we can correctly repair it and make sure the problem doesn’t just keep repeating itself to where you do need consistent recharges.
When your heat pump leaks refrigerant, it can cause a number of problems, including but not limited to:
A Loss of Heating or Cooling Power
When leaks happen in your refrigerant line, your heat pump system may still blow out air, but that air won’t be properly heated or cooled (depending on what mode it is in). Eventually, the refrigerant level in your system will decline so far that your system won’t be able to function at all.
If you notice less heat coming from your heat pump this winter, or if you do in fact notice less powerful airflow, then be sure to call for professional repairs ASAP. We may be looking at a problem with your air handler rather than a refrigerant issue. However, the only way to tell for sure is with a thorough examination.
Ice Formation on the Coils
“Well, it’s almost winter, so that’s normal right?”
During the refrigerant process in your heat pump system, fluid shifts back and forth from a gaseous to liquid form, being put under intense pressure before entering the coils. There is a valve in your heat pump that releases a specific amount of refrigerant, and as this happens, the system pulls heat from the outside air to bring it indoors (when the system is in heating mode, that is).
However, if you have a refrigerant leak, then ice or frost can develop on the outside of the coils, serving as an insulating barrier between the refrigerant and the air that it is meant to condition, meaning your heat pump has to work harder to do its job until the problem gets so bad that the heat pump can’t function at all.