You depend on your air conditioner to keep you cool and comfortable during the hot summer months. When problems occur with your AC, you might be left in the unpleasant heat, wondering where to start. One cause of a malfunctioning unit is an overcharged air conditioner. An overcharged AC can have severe consequences for your system and your wallet.
If you notice problems with your air conditioner and suspect it might be because it's overcharged, you'll need to know how to handle the issue so you can get your AC up and running as soon as possible. Check out this guide to learn more about overcharged AC symptoms, what causes them and how you can get your unit fixed so you can have a working, efficient system once again.
What Does Air Conditioner Refrigerant Do?
AC refrigerant is a chemical compound necessary for the cooling process in an artificial cooling system. The AC refrigerant absorbs heat from the air around the AC unit, converting low-pressure gas into high-pressure liquid as it travels through the AC system. This is a continuous cycle — the refrigerant flows through the AC system and remains at a constant level throughout this process.
Refrigerant is essential to how your AC system works to cool your house. To cool the air drawn into the AC unit, the system needs something to remove the heat and create cold. This is where the refrigerant comes in. AC refrigerant carries heat to the outside unit, releasing the heat as condensation. After traveling outside, the now-cool refrigerant returns to the inside unit, absorbing the heat once more. Cool air is blown into the house through vents, helping control the temperature in your home.
The refrigerant cycle is continuous, and this closed loop should always have constant refrigerant levels. If these levels change, it can mean a problem with the system or an overfilling of refrigerant. Either of these issues can lead to reduced efficiency and higher energy costs for your home. Your refrigerant is vital to the cooling process — there are several different kinds of refrigerants, each with slightly different compositions, but they all facilitate air cooling.
What Does It Mean When an AC Is Overcharged?
An overcharged AC simply means there's too much refrigerant in the system. It's a much less common issue than having an undercharged AC. An undercharged AC doesn't have enough refrigerant in your system. Leaks that allow the refrigerant to escape from the air conditioner often cause air conditioner issues, but AC problems can also be due to an overcharged system.
When you get your unit installed, it will have the proper amount of refrigerant inside of it. The correct amount of refrigerant lets the AC system cool your air correctly and efficiently, maintaining the correct pressure levels and system functions. Too much refrigerant leads to an overcharged air conditioner, which can reduce your unit's efficiency and cause several other problems for your system. These issues can become costly if you ignore them or try to repair them without a professional technician.
How Do AC Refrigerants Become Overcharged?
The most common reason for an overcharged air conditioner is non-professionals putting too much refrigerant in the system. This generally occurs right after installation or as a result of AC problems. When a professional installs the AC system, they put the refrigerant inside the unit. An amateur technician or even the homeowner might put too much refrigerant in the unit during installation.
Along with installation, excess refrigerant might happen when an amateur attempts repairs. It's easy to see signs of AC problems and attribute them to an undercharged AC. Many people think AC problems mean the refrigerant just needs to be topped up as if it were oil or gas, but this is a common misconception. Refrigerant shouldn't leave the AC system or evaporate over time if the system is working properly.
If refrigerant levels are low, it's because the system has a leak somewhere. If an amateur examines the unit, they'll often overfill the refrigerant attempting to resolve the problem. Instead of correcting the problem, they'll put more refrigerant in the air conditioner, leading to an overcharged AC.
What Happens When Your AC Has Too Much Refrigerant?
But what's wrong with too much refrigerant? Why is that an issue for your air conditioner?
Too much refrigerant can lead to several problems with your AC system. These issues might start as minor annoyances but can quickly lead to damages, poor AC efficiency and even significant repairs or replacements. The longer an overcharged AC goes unnoticed, the more extensive the damage will become, and the more expensive repairs will be.
The primary problem with an overcharged air conditioner is interference with the refrigerant cycle itself. Excess refrigerant in the system means the refrigerant can't properly convert between its liquid and gaseous forms. More refrigerant will remain a liquid, affecting the home's cooling and the system's efficiency. Additionally, increased refrigerant remaining in its liquid state means excess pressure inside the AC system, causing the AC system to work harder.
The harder the air conditioner has to work, the less efficient it will be and the more energy it will use to maintain the climate in your home. The more the AC works, the most expensive your energy bills will be. This strain on the system can lead to the compressor burning out if left unresolved.
Another serious issue that can occur is liquid refrigerant entering the AC compressor. When too much liquid refrigerant cycles through the AC system, excess refrigerant can enter the compressor, mixing with the oil. Refrigerant mixing with oil can cause the compressor to burn out and the entire unit to fail, requiring a complete replacement.
Refrigerant in the compressor can also lead to slugging, which is when the refrigerant floods the piston cylinders inside the compressor. Slugging can lead to several issues inside the compressor, which can all cause severe damage. Some problems include broken connecting rods, broken pistons, compressor damage and an increase in crankcase pressure, leading to an over-pressurized AC system.
Overcharging can cause serious problems for your AC system. You might even have to replace your air conditioner if you don't catch problems early enough, leaving you with expensive repair costs.
Signs That Your Air Conditioning Is Overcharged
If you suspect you have an overcharged AC, you should have a professional inspect it immediately. The earlier you can catch a problem, the less expensive it will be for your energy bills and repair costs. It's easy to notice the signs of an overcharged air conditioner once you know what you're looking for.
Recognizing potential signs of an overcharged AC will help preserve your peace of mind and give you the tools you need to catch problems early. Common overcharged AC symptoms include the following:
Uneven Pressure Levels
You might have trouble telling if you have varying pressure levels on your own. However, unresolved pressure issues will strain your AC system and lead to lowered efficiency, increased costs and unit damage. Contact a professional to perform pressure readings, especially if you don't have the proper equipment for the job. Uneven pressure levels can come from the liquid refrigerant entering the compressor or traveling through the places where it should be gaseous.
Frost is always a sign of a problem with your air conditioner, but it might be difficult to tell exactly what is causing the frost. Sometimes, frost layers indicate low refrigerant levels in the unit. Frost is also a potential sign of an overcharged AC system. Speak with a technician and request AC servicing — they can determine the exact cause of the frost layers.
No Air Flow
While it's normal if an AC sometimes doesn't start up immediately, a lack of air flow might be due to excess refrigerant. If you start the air conditioning and it doesn't blow any air at all after a few minutes, turn the system off immediately. Your system might be blown out or overcharged, and you'll need professional assistance to prevent further damage.
Any unusual or loud noises suddenly coming from your air conditioner are most likely a sign of system issues. If you start hearing squealing noises from your air conditioner unit, you could have an overcharged AC. Loud squealing often comes from excess pressure in the air conditioning lines, which can mean some of the refrigerant hasn't converted into gas. Forcing the liquid refrigerant through tiny hoses and nozzles creates the squealing noise you hear.
Another sign of an overcharged AC is weak cooling. If your air conditioner isn't reaching the target temperature or the air coming out of the vents feels warmer, too much refrigerant might be the problem. Excess refrigerant stops the AC from working correctly and efficiently. This causes the system to fail to maintain cooler temperatures like it used to.
An air conditioner running correctly will operate efficiently. You'll get the temperature you set consistently and within a reasonable amount of time. If you're looking at your energy bills and notice an unusual spike, it might be an overloaded air conditioner. First, ensure there aren't any gaps or openings in your home letting out the cold air. Next, check that the weather has been regular — unusual spikes in temperature can lead to increased energy costs.
If you're certain everything else is normal, and your energy bills are still going up, it could be an overcharged AC. An over-pressurized AC system will work harder to maintain the climate, using more energy and increasing your bills.
Shutting Down Completely
If the liquid refrigerant enters the compressor and mixes with the oil or the pressure becomes too great and makes the unit work too hard, you may experience a complete shutdown. An AC shutting down entirely might be a sign of burnout. Once your system burns out, it could be beyond repair, and you might need to replace your entire air conditioner. Have a professional inspect burnt-out ACs so they can determine the extent of the damage.
How to Fix an Overcharged AC
While fixing your air conditioner on your own might be tempting, you should avoid trying to repair the system yourself. Without proper training, it's easy to make the problem worse or incorrectly fix it. If you're experiencing any overcharged refrigerant symptoms, the best way to diagnose and repair your system is to call a professional technician. Doing air conditioner fixes on your own can be a safety hazard and might leave you with a more expensive professional repair bill if you don't get it right.
Professionals have the training and equipment needed to calculate the correct refrigerant levels of your AC system. Since excess refrigerant can cause significant damage to your air conditioner, technicians can make any necessary repairs and recommend solutions for you. They'll look at the whole system and find the root cause of the problem. If your AC can't be repaired and you need to replace it, they'll give you good options for a new air conditioner so you can have your cool air up and running once more.
While technicians can help you after the fact, you should also plan to avoid this issue in the future. You can steer clear of overcharged ACs and expensive repairs by avoiding handling your refrigerant levels yourself. Refrigerant does not need regular top-ups or refilling — this will overcharge your air conditioner. Instead, if you suspect you have a leak or a problem with your refrigerant, schedule service immediately to ensure the health of your AC.
Additionally, scheduling regular maintenance with a professional service can prevent overcharging and other AC problems. Regular air conditioner cleaning and maintenance can keep the system running smoothly. Ensure the air flow isn't blocked and that all the system components are working correctly. Get your air conditioner inspected at least once a year by a professional to ensure there are no potential issues.
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