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AC Repair FAQ: Why Do I Need Refrigerant Top Offs?

May 11, 2021

One question we hear from Los Angeles homeowners is about refrigerant charge-up, top off, or refill services.

There is really only one scenario where this question comes up, and it’s with a broken AC in need of repair. Many of our customers have had a faulty AC quickly solved by a technician “topping off” the refrigerant in the system. However, this quick fix is just a band-aid solution. Worse, we can guarantee that you’ll need another refrigerant top off service again in the future.

Why Does Refrigerant in AC Need A Top Off?

Your air conditioner contains refrigerant that recirculates through components to provide you with cool air. All air conditioning systems have an ideal quantity of refrigerant required to function as expected. You’ll encounter problems if you have too much or too little refrigerant in the system. 

It’s important to remember that AC refrigerant is not a fuel nor is it akin to a battery charge. You will not need to fill up your refrigerant every year in order for it to operate.  

AC refrigerant is more like the air inside of a tire. Tires don’t work well when they are low on air pressure, and over inflating tires can cause damage as well. You need just the right amount of air pressure. If there is a tiny leak, filling a tire up with plenty of air can give you just enough of a safety net to get to a repair shop. And once you’re there, the mechanic can either patch your tire or recommend a replacement.

Air conditioners, too, can get leaks. Leaks are a common side effect of system wear and tear. If the refrigerant in your system is low, it’s a sure sign of a leak. 

HVAC professionals have many methods to locate the leak, but occasionally the leak could be in a location that’s difficult to reach or in a component that cannot be repaired and must be replaced. Topping off your refrigerant is a stopgap to get the system cooling again but beware – because without repairing the leak, your system is actively losing refrigerant. 

Ultimately, it’s critical to deal with the root cause of the problem by sealing the leak or replacing the component. Otherwise, you will need a refrigerant top off again and again. 

What’s So Bad About A Refrigerant Top Off? 

You might be in conversations with an air conditioning professional that wants to repair your system, when you just want to pay for the refrigerant top off. Rest assured: repairing the leak is the way to go.

If you’re only topping off the refrigerant and not repairing the leak, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll need to call the technician back out again to charge up the system with more refrigerant. If the leak is microscopic, the refrigerant will leak slowly. Larger leaks, the chemical will dissipate quickly. Repairing the leak is the best way to protect your comfort – and your wallet. 

Also, refrigerant fluctuates in pricing. This is particularly true if your AC was installed over 10 years ago and uses a specific refrigerant blend called R-22 (or better known as the brand name, Freon®). The federal government has discontinued the import and production of R-22, making it more scarce to find and thus, more expensive. That can make your regular refrigerant top off a pretty spendy repair. Read our Homeowner’s Guide to the Freon Phaseout for more information. 

Call Brody Pennell to Solve Your Refrigerant Leak

Our team is adept at finding and sealing refrigerant leaks. We are up-to-date on the latest technologies available, which translates to fast and affordable AC leak repairs for Los Angeles homeowners. We also offer AC maintenance services which includes a check on your refrigerant charge. That means we can catch and repair any leaks before they cause real problems for your comfort. And in the case your system is beyond repair, we can provide a quote on an AC replacement. We’re here to help – contact us anytime.

About The Author

Brody Pennell

Since 1945, Brody Pennell Heating & Air Conditioning is the committed to helping homeowners in the greater Los Angeles area experience total home comfort. In 2021, the readers of the Los Angeles Times voted Brody Pennell the Best HVAC Company in the area.

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