Your air conditioner can seem like your best friend on a sweltering day in the middle of the summer. But when it's not working correctly, it can make life miserable in a very short time as your home heats up. One symptom of failure that you might notice from your air conditioner is a hissing sound. This doesn't always mean there is something wrong, but it could signal a potentially serious problem. It's a good idea to know the possible sources of a hissing sound when it happens.
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Some hissing sounds are normal, but certain hissing noises can indicate too much pressure in the compressor, an internal valve leak or a refrigerant leak.
Too Much Compressor Pressure
The most serious problem that may cause a hissing sound to emit from the air conditioner is too much internal pressure in the compressor. This can range from a mild hissing noise to a loud hissing or a noise some describe as a "scream." This type of noise from the air conditioner compressor can indicate a dangerous situation. If your compressor is making this type of noise, shut down the air conditioner and call a qualified technician to repair the problem.
Internal Valve Leak
A similar but usually quieter hissing sound can come from the compressor area in an air conditioning unit if the internal valves are leaking. This hissing may sometimes take on the sound of a trumpet or trombone if the condition worsens. The noise caused by leaky valves is especially noticeable when the system powers down.
The internal valve is responsible for refrigerant pressurization control. Since it's a key part of the unit running properly, it needs to be repaired immediately. Contact a service technician to replace or repair the leaking parts.
Air Conditioner Refrigerant Leak
Your air conditioner requires the proper refrigerant charge to operate. Leaks in the copper refrigerant lines can cause a hissing sound as the gaseous refrigerant leaks out. Losing the refrigerant can result in compressor damage if the leak isn't fixed. A refrigerant leak requires a professional fix. Only a licensed HVAC technician can handle refrigerant for your HVAC system because it's a dangerous chemical.
Expansion Valve Noises
Sometimes a hissing sound coming from the air conditioner isn't a major problem. During normal operation the refrigerant, such a Freon, circulates through a system of pipes to cool the system. It compresses the gas and then expands the gas rapidly through a port called an expansion valve.
In some systems, the expansion of gas inside the unit will make an audible hissing noise routinely as part of the cooling process. These hisses are just a few seconds long and happen in regular intervals. You can test the expansion valve to make sure it's working properly, but these short hisses are usually not cause for concern.
Hissing From Registers
If the hissing sound from your air conditioner is coming from the registers or vents in your home, then there is probably no major problem with the mechanics of the system. The simple rush of air forced through the fan could result in a hissing sound because the ducts are excellent for carrying sound.
If some of the registers are partially closed, then air could be entering through tight spaces, causing increased sound. Try opening the registers wider to turn it from a hiss sound to more of a low-key whoosh.
Lee Morgan is a fiction writer and journalist. His writing has appeared for more than 15 years in many news publications including the "Tennesseean," the "Tampa Tribune," "West Hawaii Today," the "Honolulu Star Bulletin" and the "Dickson Herald," where he was sports editor. He holds a Bachelor of Science in mass communications from Middle Tennessee State University.