Air conditioners have provided comfort and safety in homes for more than 100 years. But it’s the refrigerant flowing inside coils and lines that creates the cool air we all know and appreciate. Here we’ll go over what AC refrigerant is and how it works, its evolution in air conditioning systems, and several signs you may have a refrigerant leak.
What is Refrigerant?
It’s the chemical compound inside any appliance that cools, such as an air conditioner. Refrigerant easily changes between liquid and gas as it flows inside the AC when temperature and pressure changes occur. The main benefit is its ability to absorb heat and humidity then return cool air.
What are the different types of refrigerants?
When people talk about refrigerants, they’re talking about the same thing but several types have been used in air conditioners for nearly a century. Yet, refrigerants aren’t interchangeable meaning if your system needs more, it’s best to talk with an HVAC technician about your options.
CFCs, or R-12 refrigerants, were the first type used in air conditioners after its development in 1928. Yet, this refrigerant was found to significantly contribute to the ozone layer breakdown and greenhouse gas effect in the Earth’s atmosphere. CFCs were banned from manufacture and use in 1994.
Commonly called Freon™, R-22 refrigerant was used in air conditioners until 2010 when it too was banned due to environmental concerns. Many AC systems built and installed prior to 2010 use R-22; while R-22 is available to recharge existing units, it can be hard to find an inexpensive supply to do so.
This refrigerant, also called Puron, was developed without chlorine in its chemical makeup and replaces R-22. Air conditioners charged with R-410A tend to have better air quality and run more efficiently. It’s a blended refrigerant that’s made of half R-32.
One of the newest refrigerants, R-32 shares many performance and operating characteristics with R-410A but is considerably more efficient. Air conditioners using this refrigerant are less expensive to operate due to its efficiency.
How Does Refrigerant Work?
What Causes the Refrigerant to Leak From an AC?
An air conditioner and its myriad of internal parts is generally a hearty appliance that works for years without major issues. But, a refrigerant leak may develop because of deteriorating metal parts; loose joints and connections; incorrect system installation; and/or normal wear and tear.
Signs Your AC Needs Refrigerant Work
AC refrigerant leaks are more than annoying — they’re potentially harmful. Refrigerant is toxic to people and animals if touched or inhaled, causing chemical burns, dizziness, or frostbite. If you suspect a refrigerant leak in your air conditioner, or have any of the following signs, contact an HVAC technician immediately.
AC is on, but no cool air is coming out
Refrigerant is designed to absorb heat and humidity from your home, then release the heat and humidity outside through the condenser. As the refrigerant leak continues, the level diminishes and the air conditioner runs longer than usual in an attempt to compensate. Eventually the levels become low enough to not absorb the heat and the AC merely sends warm air back into your house.
Coils are Frozen
Frost or ice on the evaporator coils is a telltale sign your AC system doesn’t have enough refrigerant. Without a sufficient level of refrigerant moving through the coils, it can’t absorb as much heat as it should. Condensation forms on the coils and freezes, often causing an automatic system shutdown. If the air conditioner doesn’t stop running, it could break down and leave you with expensive repairs.
Your Electric Bill Suddenly Spikes
It’s not uncommon for the sound of an AC to become background noise during the summer. But, the more it runs as it tries to cool the home, the higher your electric bill. If you notice a spike in your bill, contact an HVAC technician to inspect the system.
You haven’t had a tune-up in a while
AC system tune-ups are a great way to find and repair a refrigerant leak, or any other issues it may have. An HVAC technician has the tools and experience to find and fix a leak, test the repair, and properly refill or recharge the system. A tune-up also helps your air conditioner run at its most efficient, saving you money each month.
A well-maintained AC system that’s properly charged with refrigerant will keep your home cool and comfortable for years. But if your system has a refrigerant leak or other issue, you can count on Swan Heating & Air Conditioning for professional AC service — contact us today.