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AC Refrigerant Explained

June 15, 2021 | Blog

Your AC unit has many parts that work together simultaneously to ensure your home stays cool all summer long, but one part of your system is what gives the name “air conditioning” its true meaning. The MVP of your AC unit is the refrigerant, but what exactly does it do? At Ball Heating and Air Conditioning we want you to be fully informed on what you need to know about your home’s HVAC system to keep you breathing cool, healthy air all summer long. 

What is a Refrigerant?

Refrigerant is the substance that quickly changes phase to cool air efficiently. It is used in the refrigeration process for more than just your air conditioning unit! It is used in any situation that controls temperature for cooling for long periods of time. This includes refrigerators, freezers and your air conditioner.

Refrigerant is used in many situations regarding cooling, because it carries heat away from an area and displaces it with cooler temperatures. 

What is the Difference Between R22 and R410A?

You might be familiar with a term called “Freon”, which is actually a brand of refrigerant. Freon is made of R22, which is a type of refrigerant that is no longer in use for AC systems. It is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon, which is an ozone-depleting substance that changes phase and cools air. R22 was discontinued when R410A was released into the market.

R410A is not a hydrochlorofluorocarbon. As compared to R22, it is much more efficient at absorbing and releasing heat, making it more effective at cooling the air in your home. Additionally, it is cheaper to acquire and has less chance of leaking and causing ozone-depletion (which is important for maintaining Earth’s Ozone layer). R410A is a safer option for AC systems, which is why it is used in most AC units in homes today.


What Does Refrigerant Do in My AC System?

Your refrigerant works in tandem with the major parts of the unit – the condenser coil, compressor and evaporator. As air passes through each part of the unit, the refrigerant has some part in ensuring it stays cool.

In the compressor, refrigerant is a gas that absorbs heat from the home, which causes it to change phase to a liquid. In its liquid form, the refrigerant and hot air moves to the condenser where it will expel the heat that has been collected from the compressor. After this occurs, the refrigerant moves toward the evaporator, changing phase once more to a gas. 

This last phase change causes the air to drop in temperature because the heat is expelled as the phase change occurs, which cools the coils and pushes the now cooled air into your home with help from the fan. 

What Problems Can Occur?

If your AC unit is not properly maintained through yearly tune-ups or regular maintenance, you run the risk of the refrigerant leaking. This leaking can cause many problems, starting with your AC unit not being able to cool the air. 

The worst possible situation is when the refrigerant is exposed to the air for long periods of time, which can expel chemical gas all throughout your home. Although the refrigerant is vital to keeping the air cold in your home, it can become very dangerous when it is not properly maintained. 

How to Tell if the Refrigerant is Leaking

There are a couple of subtle ways to tell if your AC unit’s refrigerant is low or leaking. The number one indicator is if the unit stops cooling the air, the refrigerant is going to be the number one cause (because this is what keeps the air cold). This will lead to a loss in the unit’s ability to blow air, which might be in conjunction with a hissing noise.

Another indicator is the coils in your unit might be frozen, which happens when the refrigerant is leaking and spills onto the coils. The way to tell this is by actually opening up your unit, which should be done by a professional. 

Lastly, if there is a sweet smell coming from your AC unit, the refrigerant is leaking. This scent was added to the refrigerant to indicate to someone that it is leaking, as it by nature is odorless. It is dangerous to inhale this chemical, as it is corrosive and acidic. Turn the unit off and call a professional immediately. 

For more information on your AC unit’s refrigerant, contact Ball Heating and AC for a cooler and leak-free summer. 

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