Iowa Freon (410A) leak in Hydron system

Discussion in 'Maintenance and Troubleshooting' started by sak12344, Jul 10, 2016.

  1. sak12344

    sak12344 New Member

    First it was propylene glycol becoming aggressive and venting (and later leaking) from a seal that it had damaged. Then it what the manifold venting and leaking propylene glycol. So we gave up, flushed the loops and refilled them with water for the summer. Then the condensation catch pan kept having an inch of standing water in it. As spring turned into summer and the air conditioning began to kick on, we could smell freon (410A) coming from the air registers, permeating the furnace room, and very thick smelling in the finished basement. Called the contractor out with his sniffer gadget and, sure enough, he found a leak on the coil. Contractor ordered and installed the new coil and..... we still have a freon smell coming from the air registers, permeating the furnace room, and very thick smelling in the basement. But on follow-up trips, the contractor can't get his sniffer gadget to alarm. So after the last unsuccessful service call, I noted the make / model of the sniffer that he uses and as soon as he left, I went on to amazon and bought my own. It alerts intermittently, even though I can smell and feel freon in the air.... it smells like chemicals, makes my skin burn, as well as making me dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous, tight throat, and short of breath. Even the pets vomit on days when the smell is really obnoxious. I agreed with him that there should either be a leak, or not. But there's what "should be" and there's "what is happening".... and in my system, it seems to be intermittent.

    The kicker is, I just got diagnosed with cancer last week. Doctors will be scheduling several surgeries in the coming weeks, and possibly chemo / radiation if the surgeries are unsuccessful, and if I choose to go that route. :( Being in this house with these chemicals coming from the geothermal system makes me sick and I've been feeling terrible since November 2015 which is when the problems began with the glycol. I cannot come home to this house after cancer treatments and expect to heal.

    I took a video with my phone of me getting the sniffer to alert at an upstairs air register. I'm wondering if the freon smell is so thick in the basement that the sniffer self-calibrates to an already high level of freon, thus making it difficult to detect inside the trunk of the furnace. I tried to attach the video here but, I don't seem to be able to. At the least, I'll show it to the contractor. FYI ~ this sniffer is calibrated only for refrigerants, nothing else.

    Any suggestions you guys might have on how to resolve the current freon problem would be appreciated. If I can't get it fixed within the next couple of weeks, I will be looking to rent a house or an apartment that does NOT have a geothermal heating system. I just don't have the energy for these kinds of problems anymore.

    I want to be able to focus on my health without constantly being distracted by geothermal system problems.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2016
  2. urthbuoy

    urthbuoy Well-Known Member Industry Professional Forum Leader

    I've had a leak on high pressure valve only show up when the system was off - when the system was running somehow the valve sealed. I don't put much weight in that being your answer, but I've seen it firsthand.

    That being said, sniffers can false-positive on a lot of things.

    As to fumes, anything in your mechanical room that produces vapours can get pulled into your return ducting and sent throughout the house. If previous work was done, it may even be residual refrigerant oil on the equipment.
  3. mrrxtech

    mrrxtech Member

    This problem sounds familiar, a month back someone had a Freon problem that caused them to go to the Emergency Room.
    Having had an intermittent Freon leak in an A coil for a split system heat pump, I know what Freon smells like when it blows out from the A coil into the air duct when the unit first starts up. My leak was small and only in the heating mode.

    It sounds like the leak wasn't in the air coil/heat exchanger since it has been replaced but the problem is still happening. The leak must be small or the system wouldn't be able to heat and cool your house. Since there's a liquid lubricant used in the Freon side, it's possible you could find the leak by looking for an oil coating near the leak.
    Once you find the Freon leak and have it fixed, that should be the end of your Freon problem.

    As for the water loop antifreeze, have you had a different antifreeze added to your loop, or is it still water only?

    I use Methanol in my loop, which is Funny Car Fuel. Methanol requires a lot of planning, safe handling with eye protection, as well as following the Material Safety Data Sheet on the drum. This is the same chemical found in the blue gallon jugs of windshield wiper cleaner used in vehicles. I'm not the only person using Methanol in Geothermal closed loops but there are some who like to scream & holler when I mention the word METHANOL! Some have to take their cheap shots when they can.
    My son was sold a gallon jug of windshield wiper fluid out of a drum at a service station. I diluted it several times and it still was too strong to use in the vehicle. He may have been sold pure Methanol by someone who didn't realize he was supposed to dilute it down to 10 or 20% with water. I'm glad that I got my hands on the jug before my Son used it in his windshield fluid container, he could have had eye problems or had an alcohol fire in his vehicle.

    SAK, I hope you find your Freon leak soon and have one of those miraculous cancer recoveries that can occur with todays cancer treatments. Ron
  4. urthbuoy

    urthbuoy Well-Known Member Industry Professional Forum Leader

    Methanol is the most common antifreeze around here. But not windshield washer fluid - methanol not being as common in this usage as ethylene glycol or ethanol. No matter what the washer fluid is it has detergents in it, which I could see being an air-entraining. So use the proper stuff if going that route.
  5. mrrxtech

    mrrxtech Member

    I buy Methanol from a service station in an unopened 55 gallon drum, with original labeling and MSDS, which is 100% Methanol. If I were to use a glycol antifreeze, I would buy it by the drum as well, otherwise it would be too expensive to use in a geothermal loop.

    Buying the blue antifreeze/window cleaner would be unnecessarily expensive plus the percentage of Methanol could be lower than what is needed in a geothermal loop. Also, as you said the mixture might not be pure methanol & water.
  6. mrrxtech

    mrrxtech Member

    I would think your Freon problem is now over so you won't have to move.
    So you had a Geothermal Unit and a back up heating & cooling system that also used Freon?
  7. sak12344

    sak12344 New Member


    Thank you for the well wishes re: the cancer journey. Apologies for my delayed response. The past two weeks have been nothing but doctor appts, and phone calls between me, my local doc, and Mayo Clinic. The form of cancer that I have is very rare. My local doc has only seen it happen 10 times in his career. Thus, I want to consult with Mayo doc's who have seen it more frequently. A major hurdle for Mayo will be my extreme allergies to medications and multiple chemical sensitivities... which have become much worse over the past year since having chronic exposure to propylene glycol and freon from this damn geothermal system. :( No really, ask me how I feel about geothermal. :p

    Unfortunately, I don't know the answer to your "back up heating and cooling question". I will try to attach some photos here that might answer your question.

    NO the freon problem has not been solved. I got a 10 second long screaming alert from the sniffer at a couple of air registers last night. The freon leak seems to be intermittent. Sometimes the freon tester alerts at various air registers, and other days it does not. What I know is that I feel "dramatically" better when I am not in this house... and that has been the case since the initial problems began back in November. The "closed loop system" is not "closed". The contractors always seem to take 2-3 weeks to come out to the house each time we call them (which just prolongs the problem), and then they either can't find the problem, or they don't know how to fix it.

    I am actively checking out apartments that are available to rent in a nearby city, as well as looking at apartments in Rochester, MN. I am waiting to hear back from doc's at Mayo Clinic who are consulting with one another on my case. Hopefully they will call with an appt time in the next couple weeks.

    Below are some photos that may provide the answer to your question. Plus some other photos that I've taken since November to document the various problems that we've had with this system. As well as a photo of the new manifold, which should've been replaced when the glycol leak first occurred but the original installing contractor said wasn't necessary. Then it leaked. So we called a second contractor who hand fabricated a manifold with many fewer moving parts, thus fewer "weak links". My next post will show a couple photos of the standing water in the condensate catch pan. A new coil was installed and the catch pan was shimmed a bit toward the drain so the standing water is now less, but it does still have standing water in it. Which I know is not right. And some overall images of the mechanical room.


    before-6.JPG IMG_0916.JPG IMG_0919.JPG IMG_0920.JPG before-5.JPG before-3.JPG before-1.JPG After Flush-2.JPG IMG_0758.JPG

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jul 17, 2016
  8. sak12344

    sak12344 New Member

    A few more photos.... plus the fresh air exchanger. Which we were told to turn off during the summer months so as not to bring in excess humidity. I've tried turning it completely off but, within a couple hours the stench in the house is so bad that it would drive rodents away, if we had them. And no, there's nothing "dead" in the walls. The stench is that sickly sweet glycol smell from the leak that began back in November. It can still be smelled... even now with only water in the loops, the underlying sweet smell remains. Which wouldn't be a problem if it didn't cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, rapid heart rates (140+ bpm), and facial swelling. All documented in photos and by trips to the emergency room. And now the freon leak is complicating the situation even further. Now throw cancer on top of that.

    This is pretty much all the photos I have of the system.


    IMG_0914.JPG IMG_0913.JPG IMG_0803.JPG IMG_0804.JPG IMG_0799.JPG IMG_1113.JPG IMG_0751.JPG
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2016
  9. urthbuoy

    urthbuoy Well-Known Member Industry Professional Forum Leader

    It looks like your condensation drain is clogged.
  10. sak12344

    sak12344 New Member

    Nope, it's not clogged. The white PVC drain pipe shown in the attached photo is all of four weeks old. Replaced when the new coil was installed first week of June 2016. However, when the contractor took the old drain pipe off, the catch pan was full of water, and we were standing right by the drain hole on the side of the unit that he was unscrewing it from, holding a bucket in anticipation of water shooting out of the hole from the catch pan. And.... nothing happened. Barely a drop came out. Which is why I told the contractor to shim the damn catch pan toward the drain hole. He tried to tell me that standing water in a catch pan is "normal". Just like he tried to tell me that freon is not toxic. I gave him an MSDS sheet for R410A, which he read and took back to his employer (the specific one I found has a note for ER personal who treat patients with anaphylaxis - which I've had numerous trips to the ER for - the 410A exposure makes a person hypersensitive to... epinephrine, one of the drugs that the ER wants to give a person who's having anaphylaxis.... the MSDS also notes all of the symptoms that I mentioned in my original post above). I've also sent the videos that I've taken of the freon sniffer alerting at various air registers via text to his cell phone.

  11. urthbuoy

    urthbuoy Well-Known Member Industry Professional Forum Leader

    Yeh. It needs to drain obviously. Throw some bleach in there in the meantime.
  12. sak12344

    sak12344 New Member

    Already did the bleach. We've got the contractor coming out again sometime this week to continue investigation the freon problem. If he can't solve it this time.... we're calling the Hydron company directly and are going to try to get one of their quality control people to come out and look over the unit to see that it was installed properly. Fingers crossed.

    As added reassurance, I was just out of the house for a couple hours running errands and felt dramatically better again. Walked back into the house, and I can really smell the freon in here. Moments later, the headache, dizziness, tight throat, racing heart, burning skin symptoms have returned !
  13. mrrxtech

    mrrxtech Member

    My mistake on thinking the problem was fixed.

    If you have a room that has a window and has not been exposed to the glycol, you could make a room that has no exposure to Freon by purchasing a 120 vac plug in air conditioner or Heat Pump that was being sold at Sam's Club a few years back made by Haier, which can heat or cool a room using the window to exhaust the hot air in the summer and cold air in the winter. My Son used one in his apartment to cool a computer room that didn't have enough cooling from the apartment air conditioner. You could cover up the air duct supply to the room to keep the Freon out. If you feel you could stay safely in the home while the problem is being fixed, it could save on a deposit and additional expenses on monthly rent.

    I admit, the glycol could be a problem if it has leaked into the house where it can't be cleaned up. You shouldn't risk your health any further by being exposed to the Freon or glycol.

    The water in the condensate pan is a definite problem which needs to be corrected.

    Here is a link to Sam's Club AC or Heat Pumps: AC Heat Pump&fromHome=yes&_requestid=1658345
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2016
  14. sak12344

    sak12344 New Member


    Thank you SO much ! That is the best idea I've heard yet !

    I've pretty much had myself sequestered away in a room and have had to put up with the Iowa high heat / humidity / dew point temps if I had a window open. Or, trying to stay warm using a small space heater in the cold Iowa winters because, I still have had to keep a window at least cracked open to get some fresh air into the room. I will definitely check those out. Thanks for the link !

    I know (have read on other forums) that opinions re: geothermal, are pretty much an all or nothing deal. People either love them, or hate them. Kind of like the way between Mac's and PC's. And I've seen some forums where the geothermal lovers get pretty offended by those who voice their frustrations with them. Certainly, my intent here is not to offend or frustrate anyone who love geothermal systems. But, ours has been a nightmare. Maybe it's the rural area that we live in... maybe the contractors are not as well trained in installation and maintenance as they claim to be. Unfortunately, I can't force a contractor to attend continuing education classes. And I've called and visited with a few contractors from a bigger city who have said that we are out of their service radius. Which I also understand.... it's not cost effective for them to send a tech who will be tied up by the 90 minute drive time to get to us. Thus pulling him off of multiple jobs that would be closer if they just work a specific area. Although, one tech that I spoke with on the other side of the state was willing to drive here to try to help. Of course, we'd be paying him for his drive time, so not cost effective for us. The bottom line for me is, I wish we would've stuck with natural gas / liquid propane like we had previously. The money saved in energy bills in the eight years that we've had this has all been spent (and way more) since we began having problems with it last year. For the money we've spent trying to fix it, we could've bought two natural gas furnaces. And probably could've saved me all those trips to the ER. For me, geothermal was a huge mistake.

    With the water only mix in the radiant floor loops under a finished basement. I was wondering if something like this might come in handy....? In one of the reviews, down toward the bottom of the page, a reviewer shows photos that he took of his radiant heat floor in order to discern which valves controlled the heat in specific rooms. I was wondering if we could do the same to potentially visualize a round hot spot in an area of the loop that might be leaking. However, the water level in the tank in the furnace room has not dropped. So, I doubt that there's a leak. But, it would be interesting to see what this thing showed.
  15. mrrxtech

    mrrxtech Member

    In order to identify a leak in one of your basement floor lines, you can hire an ex-union plumber turned Handy Man to pull the two copper headers that handle the supply and return of water into the basement floor and solder in ball valves for each line at the supply and return. I've found these folks working for themselves will give you a better quote to do work than a large company since they have low overhead.

    When water level in the tank starts dropping, you can turn off the system, isolate all lines, then open them one at a time using tank level to determine when you un-isolate the leaking line. You don't need a geothermal company to install these ball valves.

    Geothermal is a great idea when it works properly. Using a water to water geothermal makes Geothermal more complex than using an old fashion central air duct system. For those who haven't had a Geothermal install to date, I would look at the central air duct system before using a water to water Geothermal system.

    My Son bought a Haier Air Conditioner, but in the winter I helped him change the duct line up to the window to discharge the cold air out of the room while blowing the warm air in which acted as a rough Heat Pump. We should have purchased the Heat Pump but I wasn't thinking about the winter in the middle of the summer, and I may not have been aware at that time that Haier & Sam's Club had portable Heat Pumps when we made the purchase.
  16. sak12344

    sak12344 New Member

    Contractor was just here with his freon sniffer and, again, he couldn't get it to alert. I turned the fresh air exchanger down (to bring in less fresh air) and noted the freon smell getting worse. But he wasn't able to get an alert inside the trunk of the furnace. So, we went upstairs and he put the sniffer in front of a couple of air registers and got nothing. I turned on my sniffer (the one I bought a couple weeks ago to exactly match his) and I got two distinct hits from the air registers. Contractor said, "we know there's a problem but, until I can pinpoint the leak inside the trunk of the furnace, I can't fix it." I asked again about the condensate catch pan having a bit of standing water in it. "That's not a problem", is what he said. Which I know is a BS answer.

    So, then we called the Hydron Module company hoping they might have a quality control division that could send someone out to take a look at the thing. The response we got from Hydron is, "You have to find a local dealer in your area to help you." So, no help from them either.

    Lovely. An eight year old geo system that cost $35k... has now cost us $20k in attempted fixes. Two different contractors that can't figure out the problem. A manufacturer that refuses to send anyone out to help. More family members beginning to cough and clear their throats when the smell is strong. More of us requiring doctor appts. Me trying to battle a recent cancer diagnosis in an environment that is not conducive to healing, thus numerous added health care costs for all of us. So much for saving money with geothermal.

    I will recommend to anyone who asks, in personal conversation, that they stay far away from geothermal systems. Waste of money, waste of time, and a potential health hazard for those who might be chemically sensitive and not know it until after there's a problem.

  17. docjenser

    docjenser Well-Known Member Industry Professional Forum Leader


    while everyone here feels with you going through the cancer diagnosis, a refrigerant leak is not unique to geo, but can happen with any A/C system. Nor would I be convinced that the symptoms you are seeing come from leaking refrigerant.

    If your system would leak so much that the smell is noticeable, it should have lost pressure and not work at all, or work with reduced capacity. Checking the performance first and then checking refrigerant pressures should give you the answers. Straight forward. Without that it is all speculation.

    Manufacturers sell boxes to service contractors, and they reimburse them with a labor allowance and the parts, but that is it. Conventional equipment is no different.
  18. sak12344

    sak12344 New Member

    I understand that a refrigerant leak is not unique to geo. I said that for the initial cost of installation, then money spent in attempting to correct the problem, all money saved on energy bills has now been lost (plus more) in service calls and attempted repairs. We never had this many issues with our previous natural gas / propane furnace. As far as what's causing the symptoms.... freon is the only chemical left in the system. The propylene glycol in the loops was flushed and refilled with water for the summer several months ago. Sniffers are calibrated to freon only. Pressure checks have been done and no pressure has been lost. Yet the sniffers continue to alert. On bad days, the pets start vomiting. A couple days ago, after several hours inside, I got so nauseous that I began vomiting. Nausea immediately improved upon being outside for a while.

    I am in no way trying to throw a "poor me, I have cancer, pity party". I mention it because the inflammation caused by the freon leak is going to make it difficult to heal from future surgeries, and it is effecting the health of the rest of the family.

    As for symptoms of freon exposure.....

    effects, Light-headedness, dizziness, confusion,
    incoordination, drowsiness, or unconsciousness, irregular heartbeat with a
    strange sensation in the chest, heart thumping, apprehension, feeling of
    fainting, dizziness or weakness.
    Vapours are heavier than air and can cause suffocation by reducing oxygen
    available for breathing.

    Shortness of breath, severe headache, dizziness, nausea, weakness, and unconsciousness.
    Irregular cardiac activity.

    If no one can fix the problem, then the only option left is to leave.

    I was hoping I might find some helpful suggestions here. And mrrxtech provided some very good ideas. Thanks mrrxtech.

    Attached Files:

  19. docjenser

    docjenser Well-Known Member Industry Professional Forum Leader

    While the sheets are describing risks of 410A exposure to very high concentrations, it is unlikely that they cause symptoms as you describe in a scenario where the refrigerant pressures are stable (e.g. no refrigerant is lost out of the system) but you and everybody else has symptoms caused by high concentrations of refrigerant exposure.

    I am not dismissing your symptoms, but their might be something else going on in your house independent from R-410A refrigerant. You might be hunting the wrong ghost here, at least you should keep your mind open for that. The fact that your describe severe symptoms but you have not lost significant amounts of refrigerant does not add up.

    Refrigerant leaks are not rare, can happen over time, and can expose people to significant amounts. Often a pipe breaks and the entire refrigerant leaks at once, without getting even noticed by the homeowners.
    At least consider other things, like mold exposure or other environmental exposures.
  20. sak12344

    sak12344 New Member

    Will do. Thank you.

    No mold problems here. The house is eight years old, new construction. And a few months ago, we sent air samples (outdoor "control / standard" and indoor sample) to a lab in NY state, taken with their equipment, and analyzed via GC Mass Spectrometer for 15 species of mold. Results came back as all but non-existent in the house.

    It's interesting that the symptoms are similar to freon exposure and the sniffers keep alerting (literally screaming alerts, I'd post a video but, I can't) and they are calibrated only for refrigerant. So, I can't think of what else it would be. There are no other chemicals in the system that would be pushed thru the duct work.

    Another interesting tidbit... I had the exact same severe symptoms in two different family owned vehicles about 2-3 weeks prior to each one showing antifreeze problems. One that finally leaked a large puddle of antifreeze onto the garage floor, and the other that sprung a leak in the heater core. Once both vehicles were fixed, I had no more symptoms while in those vehicles. Intriguing, no ?

Share This Page