What Is AC Refrigerant and Why Is It Important?

by Chris Long - September 27, 2018

Dad daughter in their cool comfortable livingroom

The next time you're enjoying sitting inside a cool house on a hot summer's day, spare a thought for hydrofluorocarbons.

These are the chemicals that make up refrigerant, the substance that is critical to any central air system. In this blog post, we'll look at what refrigerant is and why it's so essential.

How does refrigerant work?

Inside of an air conditionerRefrigerant has been around since the 1850s, when a British inventor named James Harrison came up with a vapor compression system that used alcohol, ammonia or ether.

Since then, we've relied on refrigerant to keep our homes, cars, and food cold. In a central air system, refrigerant rests inside copper coils. As the refrigerant absorbs heat from the air, it transforms from a gas to a liquid.

The components inside your HVAC system send the refrigerant outside, where a fan blows hot air over the coils. The refrigerant then cools down and turns back into a gas. Another fan blows air over the cooled coils and sends cold air through the building.

Types of refrigerants

Central air systems have used a few different kinds of refrigerants over the years:

  • Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which are known greenhouse gas contributors and are no longer produced.
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons, or HCFCs, which don’t cause as much ozone damage as CFCs, but are still being phased out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are is more environmentally safe, and allow air conditioners to function with more efficiency and reliability.

While HFCs are better for the environment than other refrigerants, it isn’t entirely safe, which is why the EPA has rules governing how it should be handled:

  • EPA LogoTechnicians must make every effort to recycle or safely dispose of refrigerant. Air conditioners and any other appliances that contain refrigerant need to be discarded according to EPA rules.
  • The EPA prohibits the intentional venting of refrigerant. Low-loss fittings should be used to prevent refrigerant from escaping when hooking up or disconnecting air conditioners. Any leaks must be repaired inside of 30 days.
  • Refrigerant can only be sold to licensed air conditioning service companies or technicians.
  • Violating any of these regulations can lead to some tough sanctions from the federal government, including fees that come to $37,000 a day.

Your refrigerant levels shouldn’t run low

Refrigerant isn’t like the gas in your car. Your AC system doesn’t burn through it over the course of a summer. Refrigerant is designed to stay in your system. If it starts to run low, you have a leak, and that can be a big problem.

Charging an HVAC SystemHow can you tell if you have a leak? Look for some of these signs:

  • A hissing noise coming from your air conditioner
  • You see ice collecting on the refrigerant line and the outdoor AC unit
  • The air conditioner struggles when the weather is hot, but has no trouble giving off cool air on colder days, or at night

Attempting to run an AC unit that has a refrigerant leak can lead to serious damage. If you spot the symptoms we’ve described here, contact your HVAC maintenance company as soon as you can.

Has your central air system been acting up? All Seasons Comfort Control can help. Whether you’re dealing with a refrigerant leak or any other HVAC-related issue, our technicians can diagnose your problem and get your system running again.

Contact us today, and we’ll get started on making sure your home stays cool and comfortable.

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