All You Need to Know About AC Refrigerants and How to Fix Refrigerant Issues
AC refrigerants are the invisible force behind the working of your air conditioner. The ability of your air conditioner to cool is dependent on it. But you might be forgiven for not having known this before. After all, it is something that works in the background, and if your air conditioner is in top shape, you might not have felt the need to read on it.
If you are dependent on your air conditioner or heat pump, it is good to brush up on your HVAC knowledge. Read up and get to know your AC refrigerants and fix any potential issues straight away.
What Is an AC Refrigerant?
As you may have guessed, an AC refrigerant helps with the cooling function of not only your air conditioner, but also a refrigerator, freezer, or any other appliance which uses cooling.
To know more about the function of an AC refrigerant, it is important to know how an air conditioner works. An air conditioner works by using the refrigerant, which is inside copper coils in the evaporator and condenser, to absorb heat in the room, and expel it to the outside environment. During this process, the refrigerant changes from a low-pressure gas into a high-pressure liquid.
This is the simplest explanation for the refrigeration cycle. The high-pressure liquid then blows over with a fan to expel the heat to the environment. To begin the next cycle, this liquid further compresses, and then rapidly ejects from a special nozzle to convert it into a gas again. This cold gas then blows over with another fan to inject cold air into the room, and the cycle continues.
The History of AC Refrigerants
The first attempt at an AC refrigerant was in 1928, by the joint effort of Thomas Midgley, Albert Henne, and Robert McNary. They discovered these compounds while working at the air conditioning division of General Motors. General Motors sought to produce a non-toxic, non-flammable alternative to other refrigerants of the time, such as Sulphur Dioxide or Ammonia. Their refrigerants were of the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) class of refrigerants, ubiquitously called by their brand name, Freon.
The main AC refrigerant which was discovered was R-22, a hydrofluorocarbon (HCFC). It found widespread use as a refrigerant in the coming decades, as the refrigerant of choice due its favorable properties.
In the late ’80s, as the world drew its attention to the increasing rates of global warming and other environmental factors, CFC’s and HCFC’s came under greater scrutiny. They were damaging the Ozone layer and were then banned due to their devastating effects. In 1987, they were placed on the Montreal Protocol list of banned substances and were due to be slowly phased out.
Environmentally Friendly Refrigerants
With the Montreal protocol mandating a shift from R-22, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has ruled to ban the sale and import of HCFC’s. In the US, you cannot use R-22 for new air conditioners after 1st January 2010.
This necessitated the introduction of a new AC refrigerant, and this is where R-410A comes in. R-410A is a Chlorine-free refrigerant. It is important to be careful since HVAC appliances intended for R-22 cannot be used with R-410A, considering its higher operating pressures.
Moreover, R-410A permits higher SEER ratings for an HVAC system, as compared to one using R-22. Lower power consumption then has the added benefit of lowering the total demand for power plants, thus reducing greenhouse emissions.
Which Refrigerant Does My Air Conditioner Use?
If your air conditioning system was built before 2010, there is a high chance that your AC has R-22. But there’s an even more authentic way to find out. You can look at the appliance description sticker on the side of the air conditioner’s outdoor unit. The type of AC refrigerant is written there. You can find it on the user manual, or you can contact your service representative and find out!
How Do I Tell If My AC Refrigerant Needs Work?
Now that you have a brief background on refrigerants and what they do, it is helpful to be aware of some of the problems they can cause with your air conditioning. The refrigerant in an AC is not something that you should generally worry about. They are built to outlast your air conditioner. But in rare cases, there can be a leak of the refrigerant, and you would need to top it up. We’ll go over some of the common problems below:
- Cool Air Not Coming Out of AC Vents:
If your AC is on cool mode, but still there is room temperature air being blown out, you need to look at your refrigerant. This is by far the most common problem. An AC refrigerant is required to provide cooling, and without a refrigerant, it would not be able to do so.
There can be other causes for such a problem too, but a sudden shift from cool air to room temperature air is a tell-tale sign that your AC refrigerant leaks.
- Frozen Coils:
If you take a glance within your ductless indoor unit, you will see a network of copper coils, dark gold in color. The refrigerant flows to provide cooling within these coils. These coils are very cold to touch, but they should not be having frost over them in normal operation. If you see signs of frost on the coils, there is a high chance that the refrigerant could be leaking.
- Scheduled Maintenance:
It is better to have scheduled maintenance, especially before the start of a busy season. For air conditioners, this is just before summers start. It is at this time that a good HVAC technician can spot an AC refrigerant leak, and propose remedial measures.
The cause for leaks can be various. It can be a manufacturing defect, which has surfaced after prolonged usage, or because of damage encountered during use.
What Is the Solution to an AC Refrigerant Leak?
AC refrigerant leaks can be worrying, but they are extremely common. Let’s have a look at how to solve this common issue and keep your air conditioner running in top shape.
Recharging Your Refrigerant
Recharging means to top up your air conditioner with more refrigerant. If your system is low on refrigerant, you won’t get enough cool air coming out of your vent. Thus, the recharge is imperative.
A recharge is taken by a professional contractor, due to the high levels of pressure involved. Moreover, there is a high risk of damage to your air conditioner, which can result in an even higher bill.
Your professional contractor will also find out any major underlying problem, such as a much larger leak, or loose fittings. These can cause problems further down the road as well. He will fix any minor leaks or problems on the spot, and recharge your air conditioner with refrigerant. Your AC will be functional in no time again!