Your compressor is part of the magic that makes your air conditioning system function. This critical component takes the hot gas returning your evaporator and pressurizes it. The high-pressure refrigerant can then release its heat through the condenser coils, changing into a liquid and beginning the whole process over again.
When operating correctly, the refrigerant turns into a gas as it absorbs heat at the evaporator. As a result, liquid refrigerant never passes through the compressor. When liquid does enter the compressor, it's typically known as "flooding" or "floodback." This condition can cause severe damage and even destroy your compressor unit.
Why Is Compressor Flooding so Dangerous?
The critical issue with compressor flooding comes down to lubrication. Your compressor is similar to a small pump or engine, and its internal parts require lubrication. You usually don't need to worry about compressor oil since the system is sealed and shouldn't consume or lose oil as part of its regular operation.
Unfortunately, liquid refrigerant entering the system can upset this balance. Liquid refrigerant can have several severe effects on the internal parts of the compressor, including removing oil from critical components. The refrigerant may also carry oil away as it leaves the compressor, resulting in drastically less lubrication than required.
Just as with a car engine, inadequate lubrication in the compressor leads to excessive heat, friction, and wear. Compressor flooding will almost always reduce the compressor's lifespan, but it may even cause it to fail outright if left for long enough. The oil that leaves the compressor with the refrigerant also can damage other parts of the system, leading to additional costly repairs.
What Causes Compressor Flooding?
Surprisingly, your compressor is nothing more than an unfortunate bystander in this situation. Flooding usually occurs due to problems elsewhere in the system that impact the refrigerant cycle. Anything that prevents the refrigerant from changing back to a gaseous state at the evaporator can cause liquid refrigerant to reach the compressor.
Some common causes include problems with the evaporator, such as insufficient airflow due to a failed blower motor or a heavy coating of dust or debris. Anything that insulates the evaporator coils may prevent heat transfer, ultimately allowing cool liquid refrigerant to continue to cycle through the system.
Because it can be so damaging, it's crucial never to ignore a situation where your compressor may be flooding. If you notice any problems with your air conditioner's behavior, always contact a trained technician to provide a complete diagnosis and evaluation. Discovering this problem early enough can allow you to fix the underlying cause and save your compressor from an early grave.
If you have questions, contact a local air conditioning service.