What is Refrigerant?What is refrigerant? Refrigerant is the core component of your central air conditioning system. It circulates between the condenser and evaporator, absorbing heat from inside your home and transferring it outside. Modern air conditioners use R-410A, a non-combustible gas that shifts quickly from one state to another, while older air conditioners use R-22, commonly known by its brand name, Freon.

Because of its effect on the ozone layer, the Environmental Protection Agency finally banned the production and importation of Freon in 2020. They are also phasing out production of R-410A due to its concentrated blend of hydrofluorocarbons, which contribute to global warming. Though it’s not certain what the new industry standard will be, R-454B and R-32 are the most likely contenders.

How Refrigerant Operates Inside Your AC

Central air conditioners are divided into two halves, one indoors and one outdoors. The indoor unit contains the evaporator coils. As refrigerant is pumped in through the expansion valve, the sudden change from low pressure to high pressure converts it from a liquid to a gas, dropping its temperature below 0°F. (Refrigerants such as R-410A and R-22 have extremely low boiling points: approximately -55°F and -41°F respectively.)

Because energy flows from areas of high concentration to low concentration, the refrigerant rapidly absorbs heat as it passes through the evaporator coils, chilling the air before it’s released back into your home. After finishing its circuit through the evaporator coils, the refrigerant moves to the outdoor unit through a series of copper tubes.

The outdoor unit contains the compressor and condenser coils. Refrigerant enters through the compressor, where it’s pressurized and converted into a liquid. This raises its temperature to over 100°F. (Pressurized liquids have a high boiling point, which prevents refrigerant from vaporizing inside the condenser.)

The liquid cools as it moves through the condenser coils, which uses a fan to dispel the accumulated heat out into the surrounding environment. Continuing action from the compressor then forces the liquid out of the condenser, back to the indoor unit to start the process over again.

Signs of Low Refrigerant

Refrigerant circulates at high pressure: 105–143 psi (pounds per square inch) for an R-410A system and 60–85 psi for an R-22 system. Strong copper tubing prevents refrigerants from escaping, even under those conditions.

However, over time, corrosion, thermal expansion, mechanical damage, and natural wear and tear can weaken the seals, tubing, gaskets, and connections inside the system, which, given its internal strain, can cause the refrigerant lines to spring a leak. Common signs include:

  • Vents blowing warm air
  • Ice accumulating inside your air conditioner
  • Hissing or bubbling sounds inside your air conditioner
  • Water pooling beneath the unit
  • Rising electricity bills

Inhaling refrigerants can also cause dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath. If you suspect your air conditioner is leaking, call a technician immediately. Once they’ve repaired the leak, it will be safe to recharge the system. (Recharging a leaky air conditioner can cause long-term damage.)

Because refrigerant is dangerous if handled improperly, it can only be sold to certified technicians. Homeowners without the proper training are not permitted to recharge air conditioners on their own.

Save on AC Repairs with Agway EnergyGuardTM

Understanding what refrigerant is, how it works, and when to replace it is important for homeowners interested in managing temperatures indoors. Home insurance doesn’t cover refrigerant leaks, but Agway does. Our EnergyGuardTM program protects your heating, cooling, and electrical systems from damage caused by wear and tear.

When the need for repair occurs, our customers don’t waste time searching for a reliable HVAC technician. They contact us instead. We work with certified local contractors who respond quickly when your air conditioning stops working. There are no service fees or deductibles either. Don’t let a malfunction upset your household. Sign up and start enjoying the benefits of EnergyGuardTM today!