Here’s everything you need to know about AC refrigerant

You may have heard your neighbors talking about this year’s AC refrigerant phase-out. The U.S. Clean Air Act of 2010 mandated that R-22 refrigerant—a known threat to the earth’s ozone layer—stop being manufactured or imported by 2020. This means that all the R-22 that currently exists in the United States is all that’s left.

But, just what is AC refrigerant, and how does this phase-out impact your air conditioner? Does your AC unit need a recharge? In this article, we’ll address some of the common misconceptions about refrigerant and go over everything you should know about how air conditioners work.

What is AC refrigerant, and what purpose does it serve?

Your air conditioner’s refrigerant line—and the refrigerant in that line—is arguably the most important part of the system. This chemical has a special property: as it absorbs heat, it transitions from a gas to a liquid. When it loses that heat, it goes back to its gaseous state. In an air conditioner, this property is used to transport heat energy from one location to another. The refrigerant exists in a closed loop that travels from inside your home to your evaporator unit outside.

In layman’s terms, the refrigerant absorbs heat energy from inside your home, deposits it outside, and then repeats that cycle again and again until the temperature in your home is sufficiently lowered. When the refrigerant releases its heat outside, it cools and turns back into a gas, returning to inside your home. This further cools the air and the refrigerant is ready to absorb more heat energy.

An AC refrigerant leak can cause a number of performance and efficiency issues. Call one of our techs out for an inspection.What about heat pumps?

Air conditioners use refrigerant to cool your home. However, a different HVAC system known as a heat pump is capable of using this same process to also heat your home in the winter. In colder weather, heat pumps reverse the process described above. The refrigerant absorbs heat energy from outside, and then releases that energy inside. Even relatively cold, outdoor air has some ambient heat energy for the refrigerant to draw from. In this way, heat pumps can both cool your home in the summer and heat your home in the winter.

How long will my current refrigerant last?

This is where many homeowners tend to mix up their car and their home. Unlike a car’s air conditioning system which needs an “AC recharge” every 2-3 summers, your home’s air conditioning refrigerant exists in a closed loop system, completely sealed off from the outside world. In theory, your air conditioner should never “go through” or run out of its refrigerant. If everything is right with your system, you should be able to continue using the same refrigerant that came with the system.

What is a refrigerant leak?

However, there’s an important caveat here: refrigerant leaks can happen, leading to a loss in refrigerant and your home’s air conditioner just not working properly. A refrigerant leak occurs when the line is damaged in some way—typically, at the point where it runs between the outdoor evaporator and the home. If your refrigerant line has a leak, you’ll start to notice declining air conditioner performance and efficiency. The less refrigerant in the line, the longer the air conditioner has to cycle what’s left to absorb heat energy out of your home.

Can I buy more refrigerant?

This depends on the age of your system and the type of refrigerant used. Older air conditioners use R-22 refrigerant, which is currently being phased out due to its negative effects on the environment, particularly the earth’s protective ozone layer. As a result, remaining stores of this refrigerant have significantly gone up in price.

Newer air conditioners use R-410A refrigerant, which is better for the environment and less expensive. R-410A is actually better than R-22 in several other ways, including being a net positive for your system’s energy-efficiency and your indoor comfort.

To answer this question more directly, however, the answer is no. Guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency prohibit homeowners from directly purchasing their own AC refrigerant. Only professionals are allowed to buy refrigerants. This is due to the strict disposal rules involved with old refrigerant: improperly disposing of refrigerant can cause incredible damage to the environment.

What happens if I need more refrigerant?

First, we strongly recommend you give us a call and have one of our certified technicians out to inspect your air conditioner. We’ll want to confirm that you do in fact have a leak and that your system is running low on refrigerant. Don’t just take another company’s word for it: unfortunately, some HVAC techs out there take advantage of homeowners’ familiarity with the need for an AC recharge in cars and sell them on an “AC recharge” service that is either unnecessary or—without fixing the actual leak itself—only a temporary fix.

In other words, we’ll want to plug the hole before filling the proverbial bathtub back up with water. Once we’ve fixed the leak, we can then recharge the system. As part of this process, we’ll safely remove all the existing refrigerant from the line, capturing it for proper disposal.

If your air conditioner uses R-22, you may have a choice to make. Replacing leaked R-22 is cost-prohibitive, and is only going to get more expensive in the coming months and years as this older refrigerant becomes more and more scarce here in the U.S. Depending on the cost involved and the age of your system, our technician may recommend that you either retrofit your existing system to use R-410A or upgrade to a new air conditioner.

If you have refrigerant questions, we have answers

The team at ABC Cooling, Heating & Plumbing prides ourselves on helping local homeowners here in Hayward and the Bay Area with their air conditioning repair, service, and replacement needs. You can trust in our friendly, knowledgeable technicians. If your air conditioner isn’t working properly, or you have reason to believe that you have a refrigerant leak, please contact us immediately.

Sewer line issues: Here are the signs of a cracked or clogged line

Okay, let’s be honest: your sewer line is probably one of those things in your home that you don’t really think much about… until something goes wrong. But, what does something going “wrong” even entail with a sewer line? What do you even look for?

In this blog post, we’ll break down both the causes of sewer line woes and the signs you need to look out for to indicate that you need plumbing repair.

If your home has a sewer line clog, our plumbers can clear out the line using an auger, like the one pictured here.

If your home has a sewer line clog, our plumbers can clear out the line using an auger, like the one pictured here.

If you suspect that your Bay Area home has sewer line issues, contact our team here at ABC Cooling, Heating & Plumbing. We offer emergency line inspection and repair services in Hayward and beyond. To get started, give us a call at (510) 471-8181 or contact us online.

Causes of sewer line issues

Here are three of the most common causes of sewer line problems:

  1. Your sewer line can clog if the line is obstructed by what’s popularly known as a “grease-berg”. This is a collection of grease, oils, fats, and other material—typically poured down the kitchen sink—that collects in a physical mass, until it eventually clogs the entire 6-inch line. (Read: Here’s an example of what this looks like on a larger scale!)
  2. Your sewer line can also clog if obstructed by trash. This is why it’s not recommended that you throw anything that isn’t biodegradable down the kitchen sink or toilet. We’ve seen q-tips form the basis for a major clog!
  3. Your sewer line can crack if a tree root—searching for water—breaks into the pipe and begins to fill it. More on this in a minute!

To learn even more about the common causes of sewer line clogs—and how you can potentially prevent a clog from forming—check out this blog from our team.

4 Signs Of Sewer Line Problems

Here are the four big signs of sewer line troubles:

Simultaneous drain clogging

Think of your home’s plumbing like a river that is fed by multiple smaller streams. If you were to dam one of those creeks, it might not impact the larger river all that much, and the river would continue to flow downstream.

Pictured: Sewer Line Repair

This is what removing and repairing a ceramic sewer line looks like.

However, if you dammed the large river, the water from the entire system would have nowhere to go, and would start to rise above the banks. What’s more, that water would get pushed back into the creeks, and they’d flood, too.

A single clogged sink or kitchen drain is like the stream in the analogy. You might need our drain cleaning services, but it probably doesn’t mean you have a sewer line clog.

A sewer line clog or blockage is the damming of the river, in that your entire home’s plumbing is going to backup. If the line clogs, all of the drains in your home will clog simultaneously. That’s when you need to drop everything and give us a call for emergency plumbing repair.

Wet ground above the line

A cracked sewer line that leaks can be a major problem. Before we get started, think about the answers to the following:

  • When was your home built? If your home was built in the 1980s or later, it likely has a PVC sewer line. PVC can crack or collapse when put under pressure (more on that in a second), but with no outside duress, it should last for the lifetime of the home. Older materials—such as cast-iron or clay—are durable, but don’t have quite the lifespan of PVC.
  • Where does your line run? Find your sewer cleanout lines and determine where the sewer line runs from your home to the municipal sewer. For many homes, the line runs to the street.
  • What’s above the line? Now that you know where the line runs, what’s above it? Take note of any trees, bushes, or other yard foliage.

Trace the sewer line’s location and look for any abnormal “wet” spots on the ground, when there has been no rain and there’s no irrigation for water to pool there. If it’s right above the line, this may be a sign that your sewer line has a leak.

Trees or bushes above the line

If there’s a tree or bush right above or near the line, you should be extra wary. Over time, tree roots dig deep in search of water. Roots can destroy or block sewer lines even without a leak, but a sewer leak acts as a positive feedback loop for the tree. As they find water, the roots snarl around the line, breaking into it.

Tree roots are a common cause of sewer line clogs here in the Bay Area. Even a tree that’s feet away from the line can have roots that find their way to it.

Sewer odors outside and inside

If you step outside and your yard smells like a garbage heap, that’s a pretty good sign that something is wrong. A cracked line will emit sewer gases, which smell about as great as you might assume.

Sewer smells inside the home could indicate the same problem, or they could indicate that the sewer trap plugs aren’t doing their job. Either way, we recommend giving us a call. We’ll diagnose whether you need your traps fixed, or if the issue is more serious.

Schedule a sewer inspection

All of the signs above are good indicators that something is wrong with your sewer line. However, the only way to be 100% sure that’s there a blockage—and to know what exactly is causing it—is to schedule a sewer line inspection from our team here at ABC.

The best way to see a clog is to, well, actually see it. We have specialized cameras that we place on lines to go into the line and identify the problem before digging things up. Depending on the type of clog, there may be a way to clear it without opening up the line.

For service in the Bay Area, turn to the experts at ABC

At ABC Cooling, Heating & Plumbing, we know our way around sewer lines and the problems homeowners face. Our experienced, expert plumbers are plumbing repair experts, and we offer emergency service in much of the Bay Area, including Hayward and the East Bay.

If you need emergency service or you need a sewer camera inspection, give us a call at (510) 471-8181 or contact us online.