How to find refrigerant leaks

Water leaking out of a pipe on top of a water heater.

Do you have a refrigerant leak in your heating and cooling system? 

In this article we’re going to talk about the best ways that a heating and cooling technician can find that leak. 

The first one is probably the easiest way if you have oil somewhere on the copper lines of the system, typically that is a good place to start. In other words if you woke up to a system and it’s been leaking refrigerant or it’s low in refrigerant so you assume it’s been leaking refrigerant and you’ll go round and touch the copper line sets or maybe the TXV or just somewhere in the loop of the copper lines and if you find this oil residue is a good chance most of the time that oil was there because the refrigerant is leaking out somewhere close to that.  Sometimes you’ll see drain pans with oil in them and that’ll be evidence of the leak. If you’re at the outdoor unit maybe you’ll see oil somewhere out there just looking for oil and you as a homeowner could probably even do that so if you happen to see oil somewhere where you feel oil on the lineset then chances are you just found the refrigerant leak also. 

Secondly, there is something we call a sniffer. There are basically electronic devices/tools that we can use that will sniff out the refrigerant leak and I’m not always in love with a sniffer. I know there’s guys out there that will swear up and down they can find any and all leagues with their sniffer. I think that there is an art to it that you know use it a lot the more you use it the better you are at it but ultimately I do think that there are some refrigerant leaks that you cannot find with a sniffer. And there’s a number of reasons for that but ultimately there are times when you just simply can’t find it.

Thirdly, a little bit but is the old-school way of bubbles, it’s basically a soapy liquid that if you were to spray it on the leak it will bubble up and you’ll find bubbles coming up from where the leak is. Usually if you can do that, you can spray those bubbles and it begins to bubble then you just find the refrigerant leak.

Fourthly, is the nitrogen. We will take a system that we know is leaking refrigerant, we will put nitrogen high-pressure and then sometimes you can and most of our experience you can hear it. If you still have good ears you can go round and listen in the indoor coil, outdoor unit and maybe try again to your bubbles in tandem and try to find that leak. I’ll probably use the nitrogen technique more than any other technique based on our experience. Around 90 % of the time if it’s a good leak in a system. Then we can usually find it with liquid nitrogen and locate it.

Lastly guys hate this this way of doing it but it does work and that is dye you can actually add dye to the system and in a lot of cases you just use a black light or some sort of light to shine in there and I want to time is it if I’ve got a leak that I can I use nitrogen. Can’t find it and we’ve put dye in the system eventually it will rear its leaky head and so you know you might have a leak and say the evaporator coil that you just couldn’t hear it sprayed bubbles around just couldn’t find that leak and then you know you put your dye and in a couple months later, you will find it. You know they were there and now you have low refrigerant again good thing you had a dye the last time you were there any shine your light in there then luckily you’ll find the lead in the system. 

Anyway that’s some methods out there on how to find refrigerant leaks. 

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