Back to Basics: HVAC Refrigerant
A reliably performing air conditioner can make the Delaware and Pennsylvania area’s hot, humid summers a lot more bearable for everyone in your building. To maintain a comfortable indoor climate, your system relies on a fluid called refrigerant. Knowing how this substance does its job will help you keep your cooling system efficient and spot emerging problems.
What is Refrigerant?
An air conditioner cools your building by taking heat from the interior and releasing it outdoors. Refrigerant is the chemical fluid the system uses to absorb the indoor heat and carry it out of the building.
The refrigeration (cooling) cycle depends on the ability of fluids to change between liquid and gaseous form at various temperatures and pressures. For example, water turns into steam at 212 degrees.
As a liquid becomes a gas, it absorbs heat. As gas condenses back into a liquid, it releases the heat it contains. The fluid in your air conditioner continuously circulates through the system, absorbing heat indoors and turning into a gas, then flowing outdoors to condense into a liquid again and release the heat.
The Roles of Your System’s Components
Refrigerant enters the compressor in your outdoor unit as a hot, low-pressure gas. The compressor turns it into a high-pressure gas, which then flows to the condenser. As it passes through the coils of the condenser, the refrigerant expels the heat it’s carrying and turns into a cool, high-pressure liquid. This liquid flows through copper tubing back into your home, ready to absorb more heat.
When it reaches your indoor unit, the refrigerant first enters the expansion valve. This device rapidly relieves pressure on the refrigerant, further lowering its temperature. It also precisely controls how much refrigerant enters the evaporator coil, which helps keep your system energy efficient. The cold refrigerant enters the evaporator and flows through the coils, absorbing heat from the air blown by the blower fan in your indoor air handler.
Why Refrigerant Type Matters
Cooling equipment manufactured before January 1, 2010, uses fluid known as HCFC-22 or by the registered trademark R22 Freon. Because this fluid causes environmental damage, it’s been phased out. Systems manufactured after 2010 use the more environmentally friendly R410-A.
Many systems manufactured before that date, however, still use HCFC-22. While HCFC-22 can still be used to recharge (refill) older systems that have leaked, it’s no longer being produced. As existing supplies dwindle, the cost of repairing any leaks in your system will increase.
R410a can’t be used in old systems because it will damage the compressor. If your building is cooled with a system that uses HCFC-22, consider upgrading to a modern air conditioner. R410-A systems are more efficient and safer than older models.
Preventing and Spotting Leaks
Cooling systems don’t use up refrigerant, so low levels indicate a leak. Leaks usually occur due to incorrectly installed or damaged copper tubing. Vandals are a common cause of damage. Valuable copper is a target for thieves and refrigerant attracts those who use it to get high. Fencing off your outdoor unit helps protect your cooling system.
If you have a leak, you may notice:
- It takes longer to cool the building
- Airflow from the registers is reduced
- Air from the registers feels warmer than usual
- Ice has formed on the copper tubing leading from the outdoor unit
- Oily residue or stains have developed on the copper lines
- Your electricity use has risen
Leaks reduce your system’s energy efficiency, impair its cooling performance, and can eventually damage the components. What’s more, the leaking fluid is toxic. If you notice signs of a leak, contact a repair technician immediately.
Our goal is to help educate our customers about Plumbing, HVACR, Fire Protection, and Alarm Systems in Mechanical, Commercial, and Residential settings. For more information about refrigerant and to view projects we’ve worked on, visit our website!
Photo Credit: Unsplash.com