Freon isn’t a single chemical compound; rather it is an umbrella term to describe a whole class of chemicals used for cooling and is part of a family of chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). While it was originally used in a wide variety of applications, research proved it was damaging to the ozone layer so production came to a halt. However, it can still be commonly seen in many A/C units and refrigerators.
Freon, also known as refrigerant, is the cooling medium of the air conditioner used to transfer heat from the inside of the home to the outside. It’s important to check the Freon levels frequently, mainly because a 10% loss of Freon or coolant can cost homeowners 20% more in electrical costs and additional wear and tear to the unit. If Freon levels are exceptionally low, then you may have a leak that needs repairing. Freon leaks may also:
- Freeze the evaporator coil,
- Reduce the efficiency of your air conditioner,
- Cause compression failure, etc.
Causes of Freon Leaks
Freon leaks won’t get smaller; in fact, they will increase in severity over time so it’s important to call an experienced HVAC contractor to repair it. In order to find the leak, the contractor will either locate it though a visual inspection, high viscosity liquid leak detector, electronic detection equipment, ultraviolet leak detection and a nitrogen isolation test. The nitrogen isolation test is usually the most effective. The leaks can be caused by a variety of different issues, including:
- Unit vibration
- Physical damage (from pets, lawn mowers, etc.)
- Stressed or worn-out service valves
- Formic acid corroding the copper (formaldehyde can convert over time to formic acid)
Dangers of Freon Leaks
Because of its chemical makeup, Freon is an Environmental Protection Agency controlled substance which is deemed hazardous if released into the environment. Freon can have some serious side effects to those with health issues, but is unlikely to cause significant health risk if exposed in small amounts.
Fortunately, there aren’t any serious long term health consequences from Freon exposure. It is not a carcinogen, teratogen, or mutagen, and has not proven to be dangerous to the liver. There is no need to worry if you inhale it as it will leave the body just as quickly once you exhale. Not to mention, it doesn’t significantly accumulated in the body. Therefore, it’s not likely that Freon exposure, even over long periods of time, will have cumulative, long-term health effects. You should continue to practice proper safety, though, around Freon and let the HVAC contractors handle the leaks so you don’t risk overexposure.
This article was written by Mitchell Mechanical, a leading Atlanta HVAC company focused on serving the heating and cooling needs of metro-Atlanta and North Georgia since 1992. We pride ourselves on our knowledgeable staff and our customer first approach. Our technicians receive the most up to date training available and we stay on the forefront of home comfort technology to best serve our customers’ needs.
Image Courtesy: Flickr/billh 18