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Is a Refrigerant Leak Repair Kit Right For You?
By mid-summer, you may begin to notice your air conditioner is not cooling as it should and may even be freezing up with visible ice forming on the lines or the condenser coil. This can be a sign there is a refrigerant leak. Perhaps additional refrigerant (a so-called "shot of Freon") was added at the beginning of the summer and you were hoping it would last the whole season. Now faced with a costly repair, such as replacement of an evaporator coil, you look for a way to postpone this major expenditure. Perhaps you've heard about various sealants and leak repair kits available online and in stores, often marketed as homeowner DIY projects, for about $150. Sound like a viable option? We'll explore the pros and cons.
What is a Leak Repair Kit?
Often sold under the trade name Leak Freeze, Easy Seal, or Super Seal, to name but a few, these leak repair kits are typically composed of: (1) a chemical liquid in a syringe or canister and (2) a short hose injector or applicator. Most of these products are meant to be injected into the refrigerant in your system. The premise is that the chemical will travel throughout the system wherever the refrigerant goes and seek out the leak and form a seal at those points. But do they really work? How easy is it for a homeowner to use these kits effectively? By using them, can you avoid a professional AC service call?
Understanding the Fine Print
If you read the fine print and detailed instructions that come with many of these kits, they tell you some very important information.
- They won't fix very big leaks, only very small leaks. Do you know the size of your leak? You can't always judge by how often you've needed to add refrigerant in the past, because several small leaks throughout the system can exhaust refrigerant at the same rate as one single larger leak.
- They require your system be at a certain pressure to use (for example, 40-50 psi). Do you know your system's pressure? This often requires sophisticated equipment and gages, so you might need to contact a professional anyway. In fact, when you read the fine print, most leak repair kits will say they are designed to be used by HVAC professionals only. Indeed, the instructions can be a bit tricky for someone who doesn't know their way around a low side service port!
- Know what you're getting. Many leak repair kits are made for car AC repair. not home AC repair. Some are meant to be added to the oil in your system, not the refrigerant. Most will only in work in units of a certain size (for example, between 1.5-5 ton) and cannot be used in very small, very large, or commercial (non-residential) systems, though there may be other products for those types of systems.
Besides the fine print, here are three things you should be aware of:
- After applying the sealant, you still need to refill the system with refrigerant. Thus, you can't get around another AC service call and the expense of "another shot of Freon" which can run you $400 or more! As you know, the cost of the "old style" (R-22) refrigerant has increased greatly in recent years because it is being phased out by government regulations.
- Many leak repair kit manufacturers recommend applying a drying agent (such as Easy Dry) since the air that has gotten into your system from the leaks will cause corrosion. So, this additional step and cost must be considered.
- There is no guarantee how long the leak repair will last. If you have an older system with small pinhole leaks, and the product is successful at plugging them up, the chances are very great that new leaks will continue to form and that in a short time, you'll need to do everything again: spend money on another kit and recharging your system with more refrigerant making you wonder why you're spending all this money again and again for only a temporary fix!
Testimonials Tell the Story
There is no doubt that you can find testimonials from people who have used these leak repair kits some even HVAC professionals - and they say they got another 5 years of use out of the system, so they were very happy with the results. But it seems there are just as many testimonials of people who have had disastrous results. Most scenarios go something like this: The leak repair seems to work initially and the system is able to hold the refrigerant charge. A few weeks later, the system freezes up and ceases working entirely. The homeowner finds out that the chemical in the leak repair kit caused a clog in the coil or compressor and that this has damaged the system beyond repair. What was once a costly part repair is now a major expense of replacing the entire HVAC system. The buyer has remorse for having wasted time and money.
Our Take on Leak Repair Kits
Using one of these leak repair kits is a poor substitute for having an experienced HVAC technician who will take the time to find out where the leak is coming from, determine how big it is and the cause, and provide a recommendation on how best to repair or replace the affected part(s). We definitely do not recommend trying to use a leak sealant on a newer unit (one less than 10 years old) because the risk of causing more damage is too great. For very old systems where you're facing a total replacement anyway, perhaps the risk is not as great. But because it's at best a temporary fix, the time and money you do spend is just postponing the inevitable.
Armed with the facts, you can now make a better decision. As we always say at Interstate AC Service "Knowledge is Power." For more information on refrigerant leaks, check out our other posts on this topic: