What is Refrigerant and Why is it in Air Conditioners?

  If we were to put together a top 10 list of modern conveniences, air conditioning would be toward the top. And that’s because of the AC refrigerant flowing inside! Here we’ll go over what exactly refrigerant is, the different types used in AC systems through the years, how it works, and signs your air conditioner may have a refrigerant problem.

What is Refrigerant?

It’s the chemical compound inside every air conditioner that has a defining role in creating the cool air we expect. Refrigerant has the ability to change its physical state when certain conditions are applied, such as adding pressure.

What are the different types of refrigerants?

Refrigerant for residential air conditioners was developed in 1928 by a team of General Motors employees. Since then, different types have followed with several being phased out of use due to environmental concerns. To learn the specific type of refrigerant used in your air conditioner, look in the owner’s manual or on the appliance description sticker found on the condenser unit.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

The original version of Freon(™), CFCs were used in air conditioners beginning in the 1920s and 1930s as an alternative to toxic refrigerants. But, during the 1980s, it was discovered CFCs played a large role in the steady deterioration of the Earth’s ozone layer and development of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. As a result, CFCs were banned from use entirely in 1995.  

R22 Refrigerant

R-22 refrigerant, or Freon™ 22, differed from R-12 because of its added hydrogen atom. While it was the standard refrigerant for air conditioners from 1960 to 2010, R-22 refrigerant was found to also cause ecological damage. Though AC manufacturers were banned from using it in new systems after 2010, existing air conditioners could be recharged with it until 2020.

R-32 Refrigerant

While R-410A refrigerant is efficient, R-32 refrigerant is even more so. With a lower energy consumption and ecological impact, it has been called the future of refrigerants. And, given the shifted focus on environmental impact, air conditioners charged with R-32 use nearly 20% less refrigerant when in operation. This efficiency uses less energy from power plants and saves you money.

R410A Refrigerant

Also called Puron, R-410A is chlorine-free, meaning its environmental impact is lower than other refrigerants. This doesn’t affect its ability to cool inside an air conditioner. In fact, Puron helps HVAC systems raise their SEER rating and by extension, saves homeowners money on cooling costs.

How Does Refrigerant Work?

Inside the air conditioner, a fan pulls hot air from your home and into the system. The air moves across the evaporator coils which hold the refrigerant in liquid form. The refrigerant absorbs the heat and changes into a gaseous form as it moves into the condenser. There, the gas releases its stored heat and cools, creating cool air which is blown into the ductwork. As the gas continues to cool, it returns to its liquid form and restarts the cooling cycle.

Can More Refrigerant Be Added to My Air Conditioner?

Yes, through a process called recharging. Every AC system is built to hold and use a specific amount of refrigerant in relation to its overall cooling capacity. Most systems need to be recharged after repairing a leak, but this should only be done by a HVAC professional. The air conditioner and refrigerant operate under high pressure levels and if attempted without the proper equipment and training, the system could be damaged and yourself injured.

Signs Your AC Needs Refrigerant Work

If you find a refrigerant leak or suspect the air conditioner has one based on the following signs, contact an HVAC company to schedule an inspection and repair.

AC is on, but no cool air is coming out

Without the proper amount of refrigerant in the system, it can’t adequately remove heat and humidity from the air. Instead, the air conditioner blows out the warm air it brought in from your home. You might notice less air coming from the vents as the evaporator coils begin to freeze.

Coils are Frozen

Low refrigerant in the coils is a problem. Instead of continuing through the system, the refrigerant begins to flow backwards, and the condensation created by the warm air meeting the cool coils freezes in place.

You haven’t had a tune-up in a while

Regardless of how you define ‘a while,’ an air conditioner tune-up is the best way to ensure your system has the appropriate refrigerant level and no leaks. Tune-ups can be scheduled as necessary, but it’s strongly encouraged twice a year — before the heating and cooling seasons. Bi-annual appointments are also a great way to extend the functional lifespan and operational efficiency of an air conditioner. The modern convenience of air conditioning only continues to improve as the refrigerant inside it continues to improve also. If your air conditioner has a refrigerant leak, or needs a tune-up, contact Moore Home Services today for professional service!