Leaking refrigerant is bad news for everyone and everything. The air conditioner (AC) will overwork and probably break down, the house will not be as cool as it should be, and the household members might breathe in the dangerous chemicals. That is why you should diagnose any suspected refrigerant leak as soon as possible. Here are some of the methods of refrigerant leak detection.
Electronic leak detectors are handheld devices that rely on two basic technologies to detect leaks. Some leak detectors use a heated diode (an electronic device that allows current to flow in one direction only) to detect leaks. The detection is possible because the refrigerant triggers a flow of current when it comes into contact with the heated diode, and the current triggers an alarm.
The second type of electronic leak detectors uses metal oxides instead of heated diodes. The conductivity of the metal oxide changes when it is exposed to the refrigerant. The change in conductivity is registered by the detector as the presence of refrigerant.
Halide leak detectors only work on leaks concerning refrigerants that have chlorine as one of the chemicals. The detector consists of a tube with a flame at one end; the flame is powered by gas (such as acetylene or propane). The flame causes a draft that draws in the leaking refrigerant (containing chlorine). The refrigerant passes over a heated copper element where it burns and changes the initial color of the flame to green or blue.
Halide leak detectors only work in places where there are no other inflammable substances that can catch fire. The detection method is also less reliable in bright environments where subtle color changes might not be noticeable. These limitations mean halide leak detection is slowly getting phased out by better detection methods.
Ultrasonic leak detectors work on the principle that all refrigerant leaks emit some level of noise. The noise is inevitable because the refrigerant is pressurized, and a pressurized fluid coming out of a small opening will make some noise. Unfortunately, the noise may be too low for the human ear to detect, and that is where the ultrasonic detector comes in.
The ultrasonic leak detector is equipped with a microphone to pick up the sounds, an amplifier to increase the volume, and an earphone to enable the technician to hear the sounds. Note that this method might not work on depressurized systems.
Your air conditioning technician doesn't have to use the leak detection methods described above; there are other leak detection techniques. The important thing is to detect the leak and fix it as soon as possible.