Daikin AC on Blue Wall

Do I Need To Top Off My AC? (UPDATED 8/16/2022)

There’s nothing better than coming in from a day in the summer heat to relax in your comfy air-conditioned home. What happens then if your home is sweltering instead? It can completely ruin your day or even your week, depending on how long it takes a technician to get out to your home. A natural thought that many people have is, “I just need to have my AC topped off before summer.”

To be blunt, you cannot just add refrigerant to an AC. It is not the same as changing the oil in your can.

In this article, we’ll try to help you better understand your home’s AC unit. We’ll also give you some guidance on how to troubleshoot problems with your AC and what some solutions could look like.

If you need some tips on how to stay cool while your AC is out, you can find those here.

Let’s get into what refrigerant is and how it works.

 

What Is Refrigerant?

Refrigerant cools the air as it gets circulated through your HVAC system. The heat from the air gets absorbed by the refrigerant in the copper coils of your AC. That heat gets dispersed outside your home, and the air that gets circulated inside your home stays cool.

Refrigerant operates in a closed system. It should not leave your AC and will never expire.

Because of the impact refrigerant can have both on the environment and on your health, a technician cannot just replace it or top off the system. Your HVAC technician must find and repair the leak, otherwise both you and the technician can face a hefty fine and the technician can lose their EPA certification.

What Are These Fines?

Mishandling refrigerant by just "topping it off" and not repairing the leak can have severe consequences for both the homeowner and the technician involved. This can be a fine up to $37,500 per day for the owner of the AC unit and the technician will lose their certification.

That’s why you can’t just top off your AC. If the refrigerant is not cooling the air in your home, that means that something has gone wrong and needs to be addressed.

 

What Isn’t My AC Cooling My Home?

If your AC isn’t working as expected, that could be a sign that there is a problem with your HVAC system. Some of these problems might be more serious than others. Some can be fixed by yourself, while others require an HVAC professional to perform repairs.

Bad Air Filter

This is the easiest fix for you. If your air filter is dirty or clogged, it stops the airflow in your HVAC system. That means that you will stop receiving the cool air from your AC. Here are some signs that could indicate your air filter has gone bad:

  • If you notice a lack of airflow from your ducts or registers
  • If the filter itself is dirty
  • If the air is noticeably dusty
  • If strange smells are coming from your ducts

If any of those is true, it may be time to look at your air filter. It’s easy to fix this. Find the right air filter online or from your local department store and replace the old one. If that doesn't fix your problem, you might need to see if the issue is something else.

Multi-Story Home

A Two-Story Home

This is the hardest issue to remedy. Homes that have two or more levels are difficult to keep cool. The simple truth is that heat rises. Typically, your thermostat is going to be in your main living area, which is often on the main floor. That means that as your HVAC system keeps your lower floor cool, the heat will rise and could get trapped in your upper floors.

Don’t worry, though, there are ways to remedy this without moving or abandoning your upstairs for the summer.

  • Invest in Multi-Stage AC with Zoning (This option is costly but could prove more efficient)
  • Install a Manual Damper
  • Install an Air Scoop

Refrigerant Leak

This is a problem that happens more often than you might think. If your AC is running low on refrigerant, that means that it is leaking. This is a problem that will need to be diagnosed and repaired by a qualified HVAC technician. But there are some warning signs you could look for.

 

How Do I Know If I Have A Leak In My AC?

If you're noticing your AC is performing worse than normal, it could mean that is leaking refrigerant.

There are several symptoms that you can inspect yourself to determine if you need to call an HVAC professional.

  • Ducts/registers blowing out hot air
  • Water/condensation at bottom of the furnace
  • Your home takes longer than normal to cool
  • Your home doesn’t cool at all
  • Ice build-up on copper lines from outdoor AC Unit (AC freezing over)
  • Noticeable higher electric bill while AC is running

If you notice any of these issues, it might be time to have a professional perform a diagnostic.

 

What Do I Do If My AC is Leaking?

Repairing An AC Unit

If your AC is leaking refrigerant, the problem cannot be solver with a top off. Not only will it not solve the problem, but it's also illegal.

You will need to hire an HVAC technician to repair the crack causing the leak. The technician will need to be EPA certified as they are working with a system that contains refrigerant, and mishandling refrigerant can have an ecological impact and result in hefty fines.

Refrigerant can also pose a threat to your health and well-being. Therefore, you should not handle it unless you are an EPA certified technician.

To have a technician repair your AC, you could expect to be charged somewhere between $600-750 for a leak check and then up to $2000 to replace the lost refrigerant. This is not an exact quote and could vary based on the amount and kind of refrigerant and the age of the AC unit.

If your AC system is older, the number of repairs that can be done is limited, and it will be much more expensive. Your technician may advise you to consider replacing the entire AC unit.

 

Who Are Advantage Heating & Air Conditioning

We are your local HVAC Experts out of Salem, Oregon. We hope that gave you the information you need to better understand why you can’t just top off your AC. If you have other questions about HVAC systems, check out our other blogs. To learn more about who we are and how we can help you, visit our website and follow us on social media - we’re here when you need us!

Posted in AC