Refrigerator Troubleshooting Diagram

Refrigerant Pressure Leak Testing

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This is carried out on new system installations or when a plant has been discharged of refrigerant prior to repair. It involves the use of oxygen-free nitrogen (OFN) which is a high pressure gas. This is used to obtain a higher pressure than that of the refrigerant in normal ambient temperatures. This pressure should be controlled and in excess of that under which the system is expected to operate with a normal operating charge of refrigerant. This could be as high as 500 psig (33 bar) in some instances.

Sometimes it is the practice to test the system pipework only in this manner before connecting to the condensing unit. If the condensing unit is new it would have already undergone very stringent tests to pressure vessel standards by the manufacturer.

When an installation is completed and a pressure test is to be carried out it is most important to ensure that the compressor is isolated, irrespective of design, before pressurising the system. The suction service valve should be front seated to avoid any damage to the compressor valves. This will also prevent rupture of the crankshaft seals in open type and semi-hermetic motor compressors.

All pressure controls must be disconnected or by-passed. If the expansion valve is not capable of withstanding the test pressure then it too must be removed or by-passed. The bellows or diaphragm of an expansion valve has a maximum operating pressure which must not be exceeded.

The OFN cylinder must be fitted with an approved regulator to control the test pressure. For safety reasons a pressure relief valve preset to the test pressure is recommended.

When the system is pressurized, that pressure should be recorded and the plant left for a reasonable period. Just how long that period should be is debatable. It could take a considerable time for a noticeable drop in the nitrogen pressure to become evident when a system has a small leak. The time allocated by some installers and service outlets varies, and with large installations periods of days under pressure is not uncommon.

With the time element being an important factor a ‘bubble test’ may be permissible but this is not accepted by all suppliers of refrigerants.

British Standard 4434 1995 states that only an inert gas may be used for pressure testing. R22 or any other refrigerant is not to be used as a ‘trace’ pressure test. The ‘trace’ is no longer regarded as good practice. (For reference, the trace method of leak detection involved charging a system with a small amount of its operating refrigerant and boosting the pressure within the system with nitrogen. The leak could then be detected using a halide torch. Another method of leak detection is to draw a vacuum on the complete system but again the waiting period will be necessary to see if the vacuum is held. The disadvantage of drawing a vaccum would be the ingress of air which contains moisture if a slight leak were to break the vacuum.

Typical test arrangement for leak testing at 300 psi

Typical test arrangement for leak testing at 300 psi


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