Santa Energy Santa Energy • May 19, 2020
AC

A Complete Guide To AC Refrigerant

Most people don’t pay much attention to their cooling systems’ inner workings until they suddenly stop working. While it’s true that you need properly working parts, like a blower motor or compressor, for cool relief, without refrigerant — the lifeblood of the AC unit — the cooling process won’t function at all. For that reason, it’s critical to place a spotlight on this seemingly minor part of your cooling system. 

In this blog post, we break down everything you need to know about refrigerants and your cooling system.

What is AC refrigerant?

Roughly three-quarters of all homes in the United States have an air conditioner, according to the Department of Energy. 

Your AC unit works to cool your home by moving the heat inside your home, outside. The unit consists of a cold indoor coil  (the evaporator), and a hot outdoor coil (a condenser). The pump, also known as the compressor, moves the heat transfer fluid (refrigerant) between the evaporator and the condenser. 

The refrigerant evaporates in the indoor coil, extracting the heat from inside your home, and cooling it down. The hot refrigerant then moves outside via the condenser. 

Refrigerant is a general term used to refer to a mixture that undergoes state changes, changing from a liquid to a gas, and back to a liquid. When first introduced, refrigerants were toxic and combustible. Luckily, in 1928, a non-toxic blend was created, Freon, that brought AC units into residential homes.  

Types Of Refrigerants

You may not realize there are many types of refrigerants. And, not all are used in modern home AC units.  These are the most common refrigerants:

  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): These were phased out in 1994 due to their contribution to the Greenhouse Gas Effect. 
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs): The Clean Air Act of 2010 called for a phasing out of HCFCs, including R22. By 2020, HCFCs are expected to be completely phased out.
  • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs): These are considered safer for the environment and have less of an impact on Global Warming. HFCs include R410A and R134. 

You can read more here on the complete phase-out of R22 refrigerant

How To Check Refrigerant Levels

If your AC unit has stopped producing cold air, then it may be a sign that you are low on refrigerant. You should always call a licensed technician to help you check the charge (amount) of refrigerant in your unit. 

There are, however, a few signs that will tell you it’s time to call a tech:

  1. No cold air coming out of the unit. If the system is low on refrigerant, it won’t be cooling the air inside your home as efficiently as it could.  
  2. It’s taking longer cycles to reach a comfortably cool temperature inside your home. It usually means the system is pushing warmer air into your home and thus working harder to cool down. 
  3. If you are seeing higher than normal energy bills, that means you’ve probably already been experiencing the first two signs: no cold air, and longer cycles. It could be a sign your unit is working harder to cool the house down. 
  4. When your unit is low on refrigerant, you may notice ice build-up on the refrigerant line. Low pressure will also contribute to ice on the evaporator coil.
  5. If you are hearing unusual sounds coming from the AC unit, like hissing or bubbling, that’s definitely a sign of either low refrigerant, or even worse, a refrigerant leak. 

Whatever the signs, be sure and call a trained AC technician to inspect the unit and the lines, and especially if you suspect a leak. They will need to fix the leak, test the repair, and charge the system to the manufacturer’s specifications. 

Where To Buy Refrigerant in Connecticut

Due to concerns about untrained homeowners purchasing and handling refrigerants, the Environmental Protection Agency has placed restrictions on who can purchase refrigerants

While HFCs are safer for the environment, unnecessary venting of these refrigerants into the atmosphere is still harmful. By limiting sales of refrigerants to certified technicians, any inadvertent venting will be reduced. 

This has significantly cut down on the number of novices who are purchasing refrigerants and then recharging their AC units. These types of instances often lead to broken cooling systems, or worse, damage to the environment. 

The time to start thinking about your home’s cooling system is before you actually need it. If it’s been a few months since you last turned it on, it’s always a good idea to prep your AC unit for the summer months ahead. 

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