Understanding A/C Refrigerant

July 20, 2023

Central, window, and ductless air conditioners all require a refrigerant solution to function. This refrigerant runs between the indoor and outdoor portions of the air conditioner during the cooling process. Learning how this process works, how to maximize its efficiency, and how the recent changes in refrigerant regulations may affect your system can help you gain a better understanding of how your air conditioner works and the costs associated with maintaining refrigerant levels.

How Refrigerant Is Used

Inside your air conditioner, refrigerant serves as the transport vehicle for heat. During the air conditioning process, the appliance removes heat from air inside your home and sends that heat outside, where it is radiated away. In a central or ductless system, this process happens via a tube or pipe, through which refrigerant is circulated. Inside a room or window air conditioner, this process is the same, but the pipes that carry refrigerant are contained within the appliance itself. As the refrigerant circulates through your air conditioner, it begins as a low-pressure gas. Inside the compressor, it is pressurized until it turns into a high-pressure gas and moved into the condenser, where it releases heat and turns into a liquid. The liquid is passed through an expansion valve, which limits its flow and lowers its pressure before the low-pressure liquid is transported into the evaporator. Inside the evaporator, the liquid absorbs heat from the air inside your home and turns into a low-pressure gas, which is then pumped outside into the compressor to begin the cycle again.

Types of Refrigerant and New Regulations

For more than 40 years, the most popular refrigerant used in air conditioning systems was R-22, commonly called Freon. However, long-term studies have shown that Freon leaks in air conditioning systems contribute to depletion of the ozone layer, an important component of the Earth’s atmosphere that protects life from harmful solar radiation. Since 2010, all new air conditioning systems have used an alternative refrigerant, R-410A, which does not contribute to ozone depletion if leaked into the atmosphere. However, because many air conditioning systems in use were manufactured before 2010, R-22 is still currently in production to provide refrigerant for these systems, should a leak occur. R-22 will be produced through the year 2020, after which only the existing stores of R-22 can be used for refrigerant replacement in older systems.

Addressing Refrigerant Leaks

If your air conditioner was manufactured before 2010 and develops a refrigerant leak, your HVAC repair technician can simply replace the lost refrigerant with R-22. In most cases, this is still the best solution for air conditioner maintenance, as R-22-compliant air conditioners typically require retrofitting before they can accept an alternative refrigerant. When you next replace your air conditioning system, your new system will use a different type of refrigerant and will no longer require R-22. Because R-22 leaks can damage the environment, it’s important to address refrigerant leaks as soon as you notice them. Your HVAC technician will also check for refrigerant leaks during your air conditioner’s regular tune-ups.

Do you have questions about your air conditioner or concerns that you may have a Freon leak? Visit our website for more information about air conditioning maintenance and repair in Columbus, as well as helpful blog articles on furnace and air conditioning function, repair, and replacement. You can also schedule an appointment online with an experienced HVAC technician for your convenience.

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Last Updated: July 20, 2023