The Symptoms Of Refrigerant Overcharge

August 27, 2003
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Many times technicians will have the tendency to overcharge refrigeration systems. It is an easy mistake to put too much refrigerant into a system because of the vast array of different systems on the market today. Also, many symptoms for other system problems look similar, but not exactly like an overcharge of refrigerant.

The system described here that is overcharged is a low-temperature commercial refrigeration system incorporating a TXV metering device with a receiver. The refrigerant is R-134a.

The following system checklist shows a system with an overcharge of refrigerant (values in degrees F except where otherwise indicated).

  • Compressor discharge temperature: 240 degrees

  • Condenser outlet temperature: 90 degrees

  • Evaporator outlet temperature: 15 degrees

  • Compressor in temperature: 25 degrees

  • Ambient temperature: 70 degrees

  • Box temperature: 10 degrees

  • Compressor volts: 230 degrees

  • Compressor amps: high

  • Low-side (evaporating) pressure (psig): 8.8 (5 degrees)

  • High-side (condensing) pressure (psig): 172 (120 degrees)

    Here are the calculated values:

  • Condenser split: 50 degrees

  • Condenser subcooling: 30 degrees

  • Evaporator superheat: 10 degrees

  • Compressor superheat: 20 degrees


    Symptoms of this overcharged system include:

  • High discharge temperature.

  • High condenser subcooling.

  • High condensing pressures.

  • Higher condenser splits.

  • Normal to high evaporator pressures.

  • Normal superheats.

  • High compression ratio.

    High discharge temperature: With an overcharged system, the high discharge temperature of 240 degrees is caused by the high compression ratio. Liquid backed up in the condenser will flood some of the condensing surface area, causing high head pressures. All of the heat being absorbed in the evaporator and suction line, along with motor heat and high heat of compression from the high compression ratio, has to be rejected into a smaller condenser because of backed-up liquid.

    High condenser subcooling: Because of the overcharge of refrigerant in the system, the condenser will have too much liquid backed up at its bottom, causing high subcooling. Remember, any liquid in the condenser lower than the condensing temperature is considered subcooling. You can measure this at the condenser outlet with a thermometer or thermocouple. Subtract the condensing out temperature from the condensing temperature to get the amount of liquid subcooling. A forced-air condenser should have at least 5 degrees of liquid subcooling. However, subcooling amounts do depend on system piping configurations and liquid line static and friction pressure drops. Condenser subcooling is an excellent indicator of the system’s refrigerant charge, but it is not the only one. The lower the refrigerant charge, the lower the subcooling. The higher the charge, the higher the subcooling.

    High condensing pressures: Subcooled liquid backed up in the condenser will cause a reduced condensing surface area and raise condensing pressures. Now that the condensing pressures are raised, there is more of a temperature difference between the ambient and condensing temperature, causing greater heat flow to compensate for the reduced condensing surface area. The system will still reject heat, but at higher condensing pressure and temperature.

    High condenser splits: Because of the higher condensing pressures — thus higher condensing temperatures — there will be a greater temperature difference (split) between the ambient and condensing temperature.

    Normal to high evaporator pressures: Since these systems have TXV metering devices, the TXV will still try to maintain its evaporator superheat, and the evaporator pressure will be normal to slightly high, depending on the amount of overcharge. If the overcharge is excessive, the evaporator’s higher pressure would be caused by the decreased mass flow rate through the compressor from the high compression ratios causing low volumetric efficiencies. The evaporator would have a harder time keeping up with the higher heat loads from the warming entering-air temperature. The TXV will have a tendency to overfeed on its opening stroke due to the high head pressures, unless it is a balance port TXV.

    Normal evaporator superheats: The TXV will try to maintain superheat even at an excessive overcharge. As mentioned above, the TXV may overfeed slightly during its opening strokes, but then should catch up to itself if still within its operating ranges.

    High compression ratios: The condenser flooded with liquid during the overcharge will run high condensing pressures. This causes high compression ratios and causes low volumetric efficiencies causing low refrigerant flow rates.

    Overcharged Cap Tube Systems

    If we are dealing with a capillary tube metering device, the same symptoms occur with the exception of the evaporator superheat.

    Remember, capillary tube systems are critically charged to prevent floodback of refrigerant to the compressor during low evaporator loads. The higher head pressures of an overcharged system will have a tendency to overfeed the evaporator, thus decreasing the superheat.

    If the system is overcharged more than 10 percent, liquid can enter the suction line and get to the suction valves or crankcase. This will cause compressor damage and eventually failure.

    Tomczyk is a professor of HVAC at Ferris State University, Big Rapids, MI, and the author of Troubleshooting and Servicing Modern Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Systems, published by ESCO Press. To order, call 800-726-9696. Tomczyk can be reached by e-mail at

    Publication date: 09/01/2003

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