Your air conditioner works due to a process called heat exchange. The cooling system absorbs heat from inside your home using the evaporator coil, which lowers the indoor temperature. This heat is released outside through the outdoor condenser coil. This whole process is made possible thanks to a chemical blend that shifts between liquid and gas as it absorbs and releases heat.
This chemical blend is called refrigerant, of which your air conditioner has a set amount to last its lifetime. So, naturally you can assume that if you have a refrigerant leak, it’s probably not a good thing! Over time, corrosion and damage can cause leaking to occur along the refrigerant lines. This lowers the refrigerant levels and leads to serious problems for the air conditioner.
Low refrigerant levels put undue stress on your compressor, since there is a change in pressure that causes the compressor to work harder. Eventually this causes the compressor to overheat, which leads to your entire unit burning out and failing. A burnt out compressor would require replacement, and oftentimes can lead to a complete system replacement.
Additionally, because the refrigerant can no longer absorb the same level of heat as it moves through the evaporator coil, it remains colder than usual. Moisture along the coil will freeze and create a layer of frost that further impedes heat absorption. This frost turns into ice that will only continue to grow until it blocks heat exchange from occurring at all. The ice can also damage the coil itself.
Here are a few signs that mean your AC is low on refrigerant: