One of the major troubles we warn customers about when it comes to their home air conditioning systems is signs of leaking refrigerant. The refrigerant in an air conditioner must remain at a constant level, which is known as the AC’s charge, during its lifetime. The air conditioner doesn’t consume refrigerant as it runs (it’s not an energy source, but a heat transference medium), so the only way it can lose its charge is due to leaks. When an AC is undercharged, not only will cooling performance drop, but the whole system will suffer damage—eventually leading to a burned-out compressor.

But the reverse can happen, an air conditioner that has too much refrigerant. This sometimes occurs because a homeowner tried to do a DIY repair attempt on the air conditioner and put in more refrigerant. The most likely cause of an overcharged air conditioner is a poorly trained technician who wasn’t sure of the right amount because of unfamiliarity with a particular cooling system. Experience and training are essential in AC repairs, and that’s why we urge you to always call a licensed professional.

Why Too Much Refrigerant Is a Problem

The simple answer is that it can cause permanent damage to the air conditioner. It will start causing other problems before the catastrophic damage sets in, which gives you time to notice the symptoms.

Excess refrigerant will start to lower the efficiency of an air conditioner and its cooling ability. This might seem backwards: wouldn’t the AC start to get too cold? But the problem comes from the way the air conditioner is designed. If an air conditioner is designed to work with 3 pounds of refrigerant but has 4 pounds in it, it’s pushing the system to work as if it were larger than it is. It also increases the pressure inside the system. This wastes energy and means a cooling loss. As soon as air conditioning bills spike and you notice rooms are warmer than they should be, have a repair technicians out to assist you. The problem may not be overcharged refrigerant, but something is wrong that needs to be fixed.

The serious danger from overcharged refrigerant is to the compressor. Too much refrigerant can cause the compressor to suffer a permanent breakdown. The reason is because refrigerant will become trapped inside the compressor. Liquid refrigerant should never get into the compressor because it will lower the compressor’s lubrication and may allow oil to pool inside it leading to a complete breakdown. Replacing a compressor is expensive, and in most cases it is a more cost-effective choice to have a new air conditioning system installed.