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What Exactly is AC Refrigerant and How Does it Work?

HVAC tech testing AC refrigerant level

If you’ve ever had a problem with your air conditioner during the middle of a heat wave only to be told that your refrigerant is low, you’ve probably wondered what this miracle compound is and why it’s so important to your AC unit.

Simply put, refrigerant is a compound typically found in either a liquid or gaseous state and it absorbs heat from the environment to provide cool air when combined with a compressor and evaporator.

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How it works

Air conditioners contain the refrigerated gas inside copper coils located inside the unit. As the refrigerant absorbs environmental heat, it transitions from a low-pressure gas to a high-pressure liquid. From there, it’s sent outside where a fan blows hot air over the coils and releases the heat to the outside of the coil before cooling down.

Once it’s cooled, it is turned back into a low-pressure gas. Then another fan inside the home blows air over the cooled coils and distributes the cold air throughout the home.

The gas is then sent back to where it started to begin again. The amount of refrigerant will remain constant unless there is a leak. If a leak occurs, it must be repaired before additional refrigerant is added to bring it back to a full level.

What kinds of refrigerants do AC units use?

There are a variety of refrigerants used to cool an interior space. These include:

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). This includes R12, which contributes to the greenhouse gas effect. Production of this gas ceased in 1994.

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). This includes R22, which was slightly less damaging to the ozone but was phased out of production by the Environmental Protection Agency by 2020 because it still caused significant damage. Some air conditioners in use may still use this refrigerant but it is often too difficult or expensive to replace.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). This includes R410A and R134. Since there is no chlorine in this mix, these HFCs are safe for the environment and are the refrigerants used currently.

If you have an older air conditioning until that uses HCFCs, your Brooklyn air conditioning experts at Petri Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Drain Cleaning recommend you upgrade your AC unit. Getting R22 is very difficult and expensive even if you can repair the leak and the newer and more environmentally safe R410A and R134 are not interchangeable with R22.

The EPA does require that refrigerant leaks be repaired within 30 days and only allows licensed HVAC companies to purchase refrigerants. If your AC unit is leaking refrigerant and needs repair, give Petri a call at (718) 748-1254 and we will provide the best advice available. Stay cool and safe by making an appointment with us today!

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