How Do Refrigerants Work in Air Conditioning Systems

How Do Refrigerants Work in Air Conditioning Systems
Thu, 04/08/2021 - 1:44pm / By emily

How Do Refrigerants Work in Air Conditioning Systems

Refrigerants are important because they help air conditioners remove humidity and heat from air that needs to be cooled or "conditioned." In recent years, the big news in the AC industry has been the phase-out of R22 refrigerant in favor of R410A refrigerant, all of which brings us to the topic of just how refrigerants work in an air conditioner or cooling systems. Here's what you need to know.

How Do Refrigerants Work?

Willis Carrier invented what's considered the first modern air conditioner in 1902. For more than a century, refrigerants have been helping to keep homes cool. A refrigerant absorbs and releases heat from indoor air by converting low-pressure gas into a high-pressure liquid. This is how the refrigerant works to cool a home:

How the Rest of Your Air Conditioner System Uses Refrigerant

Refrigerants get some assistance from various AC parts. These components take the refrigerant outside. A fan then blows warm or hot air over coils. This warm air is "exhausted" or delivered outside. The refrigerant cools things down and changes back into low-pressure gas form.

A different fan on the inside part of your cooling system blows the gas/air over cool coils. The cooled air is then distributed throughout your home or business. The process starts all over again as long as your air conditioner is on and operating.

Types of AC Cooling Agents

Let's start with R22. It falls in the broader category of coolants known as hydrochlorofluorocarbons, or HCFCs. These coolants were first used in air conditioners in the mid-1990s. While they aren't as ozone-depleting as earlier refrigerants, they are being phased on as per the Clean Air Act of 2010.

There are two other categories of refrigerants:

  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): These coolants included R12 and were used in air conditioners for many years. However, they were phased out in 1994 because of greenhouse gas issues.
  • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs): R410A and R134 are among the more common HFCs. These cooling agents are considered even more environmentally safe than HCFCs since there is no chlorine in the mixture. R410A is especially efficient and often results in better air quality.

Refrigerant-Related Guidelines

R410A may seem like the best choice, but it's not entirely safe. This is why the EPA has rules and guidelines about handling cooling agents used in various air conditioners. For example, AC technicians must do their best to recapture, recycle, or properly dispose of cooling agents.

When to Consider an AC Upgrade

If your external air conditioner unit says "R22" on it, this means it's an older unit or one that wasn't designed to use the current cooling agent. Aside from being environmentally hazardous, this cooling material is also difficult to obtain today if it needs to be replaced due to a leak. However, you can't simply replace R22 with R410A because of system compatibility issues.

Call Us Today

Command Service Center is the company to call if you have or suspect a refrigerant leak or need any other prompt, affordable air conditioner services. We can also help you out if it's time to update an air conditioner that doesn't use the refrigerant used today.