In conversations that revolve around heating and cooling systems, a lot of talks usually revolve around this thing called refrigerant. People mention this a lot when talking about their AC systems, sometimes a bit too nonchalantly that you, dear newbie to the world of AC and heating services, may become actually curious about what it is all about. Why does the AC unit need more refrigerant? Does the amount of refrigerant deplete over time? What is freon? What is freon’s relationship with refrigerants? Is refrigerant poisonous? Can I buy it in the store if my AC runs out of it? Well, all those questions about refrigerants may sound like Greek to you, but hopefully, you’ll be more informed of this after reading this curated article. There may be some misconceptions and misinformation about refrigerants, but as an owner of an AC system for your home or business, then you need to have at least a basic background about it. After all, isn’t knowledge power?
The basics of refrigerants
First up, yes – refrigerant is the same as freon. But take note: Not all refrigerants are freon. There’s also CFC (but you won’t have to bother with them since they’ve already been banned) and Puron (the one highly used today). It is a compound found in an AC or heating system that, as its name suggests, “refrigerates” air, in other words, cools it. Refrigerants are enclosed in a closed-loop system and are highly regulated because they are toxic and bad for the environment, at least most of them. The refrigerant known as Dichlorodifluoromethane or R-12 (or, as mentioned above, also known as CFCs) is now totally banned and its production has been stopped since 2010. Meanwhile, Chlorodifluoromethane or R-22 is in the process of being phased out since last year, 2020. A chlorine-free refrigerant, R-410A is being pushed as the safer option because of its environmental friendliness. It is illegal to release refrigerants in the atmosphere just like that and the country’s Environmental Protection Agency licenses certain establishments to conduct refrigerant reclamation, which is the process of processing used refrigerant gas in an environmentally friendly manner.
Put simply, a refrigerant is a substance that can rapidly and comfortably phase change (solid, liquid, gas) efficiently. These substances are used in the refrigeration process for air conditioners, refrigerators, walk-in freezers—pretty much anything that controls temperature for cooling.
h2>The workings of refrigerants
Your AC unit has four parts: a compressor, a condenser, an evaporator, and refrigerant control. All these parts aim to get the heat from the area where your AC is installed to outside of that area. So, where’s the refrigerant there? The refrigerant’s job starts in the compressor, where it is in gas form. It absorbs the heat from the room and transforms into a liquid as it travels to the outside part of the AC unit, where the condenser is. The liquid refrigerant will then expel the heat it has absorbed with the help of the refrigerant control or motor. While the condenser then moves the hot air out of the unit, the refrigerant moves back into the evaporator to return to its gaseous state, the process of which will cool the coils and make the temperature of the air lower. Then, the fan will blow the heat-less and thus cold air into the area where the AC is installed. The, the process starts over again!
The refrigerant will enter as a saturated vapor and is a low temperature and low pressure. As the compressor pulls the refrigerant in, it rapidly compresses it, this forces the molecules together so the same amount of molecules fits into a smaller volume.
How about a refrigerant “refill”?
Refilling of refrigerants can only happen ideally in portable models of ACs or in the AC systems of your car. But since the AC unit in your house or business is most probably a conventional system that is, as mentioned above a “closed-loop” system where the refrigerant only travels in the unit’s compressor, condenser, and evaporator, ideally the set-up will not allow any refrigerant to escape it. But of course, your AC is subject to wear and tear, and thus, there may be microscopic holes in the system’s lines that may have allowed the refrigerant to escape. Thus, more than refilling the refrigerant in an AC unit, it is recommended first for any microscopic holes in the system to be discovered and repaired so that any “refills,” if added, will not go to waste.
The tubes within evaporator coils tend to vibrate when the air conditioner is operating. These vibrations may cause some of the tubes to rub against each other. Over time, this can create holes through which refrigerant could leak.
Don’t keep your A/C questions to yourself! Our HVAC experts at Air Check Mechanical are ready to answer you, so ask away!