There are a lot of misconceptions and, misinformation when it comes to refrigerant gas that we aim to put to bed here as these misconceptions lead to many an incorrect diagnosis on faults with refrigeration.
The first thing that should be understood that, in relative terms, domestic refrigeration be it a fridge, freezer, fridge freezer or even a big American type fridge freezer use a very small gas charge. This is irrespective of the gas used which would commonly be R12, R134a or R600a on a domestic unit.
These systems are sealed.
If they leak then the unit will stop cooling, fast.
When we say “fast” we mean in hours, maybe a day or two but not any longer.
An internal leak will show up in the first few days of plugging it in. It will not somehow, magically, develop an internal leak months or years down the track as some people might suggest.
Sorry but, that just simply does not happen.
If a domestic refrigeration unit leaks it’s because something or someone ruptured the system creating a hole through which the refrigerant gas can escape. In virtually every instance this will be some form of physical impact damage or someone prodding a hole in something they shouldn’t have.
Or it wasn’t sealed correctly in the first place but, as we said, that sort of failure will show up very quickly, it would not last even a few weeks with a poor joint or whatever.
The reason being that, as the gas charge is so small, any leak will mean that very quickly there’s not enough refrigerant to cool correctly and it would be extremely noticeable that the unit wasn’t working correctly.
Large industrial plant such as AC systems leak, some automotive systems leak. Domestic systems in all practical terms do not.
Likewise, with blockages, these will normally show up in days, if it even takes that long as if the system is blocked, it isn’t going to cool properly and anyone would notice that quickly.
Normally blockages are caused by either of two things:
- Moisture in the system
- Oil in the system
The first is because the system was left open for too long and water vapour has gotten in somehow or, there is a leak and the machine isn’t cooling anyway.
The second is normally a result of incorrect transportation or not enough time standing before a new unit is switched on, about 99% of the time. Or, the compressor is kaput.
Neither are easy to fix and neither are even remotely possible by anyone without the required knowledge of refrigeration and specialist equipment.
When There Is A Leak
The only time that a sealed system will leak is after many, many years if the copper or aluminium pipework corrodes or degrades to the point where it becomes porous and no longer able to contain gas.
At this point, most units will be decades old and well beyond any economical repair.
The other reason that is common enough is a leak after a repair. Often cited by long-standing refrigeration guys as being down to the move away from brazing to using what's called Lokring systems. Lokring is a compression fitting especially for refrigeration work, some love it, some hate it.
But if a Lokring joint isn't 100% right, it will leak after the system has been opened and recharged.
The failure rates of actual refrigerant systems in domestic units after you get past the first week or so, extremely low.
All the more so from decent manufacturers with Liebherr being a standout along with the other top end brands in refrigeration but even the mass market stuff from Electrolux, Bosch, Beko and all the rest, largely there will never be any issues whatsoever with a refrigerant system.
They are incredibly reliable.
The stuff around about the gas system and even compressors, that’s a different conversation entirely.
However, if someone tells you that a machine that’s a few months or years old is suddenly, as by magic, short of gas or you think it is then you’ve got maybe a 1:100000 chance of being right. Maybe.
Now banned and no longer used.
Getting anyone to repair an R12 system now is virtually impossible.
R12 was good and rarely gave any issues but, it contained ozone unfriendly elements so due to protests by suntanned polar bears it was banned.
The replacement for R12 and now also banned in production although still used for service to a degree in order to maintain older systems.
Prone to blockages as the charge was far lower than an R12 system.
The almost universal refrigerant gas for domestic refrigeration today that is iso-butane based.
Whilst flammable this gas is used in such low quantities in domestic refrigeration that it is extremely unlikely to be of any risk, even large systems used very small gas charges, normally well under 80g of gas with many, if not most half that or less.