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What is Refrigerant and Why is it in Air Conditioners?

Most homes and businesses rely on air conditioning to provide cool comfort indoors when the temperature outside rises. And by extension, they depend on the AC refrigerant flowing inside the system. Here we’ll go over what refrigerant is, common types used in air conditioners, how refrigerant works, and signs you may have a leak.

What is Refrigerant?

Refrigerant is the chemical inside your air conditioner that can change its physical state under specific conditions. These changes allow it to absorb heat and humidity and create cool air.

What are the Different Types of Refrigerants?

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

Created in 1928, CFCs were the first type of non-flammable and non-toxic refrigerant used in air conditioners. Unfortunately, CFCs contribute substantially to the development of greenhouse gas and the degradation of the ozone layer. They were banned from use in the early 1990s.

R22 Refrigerant

R22 refrigerant is a type of CFC but has an added hydrogen atom in its chemical makeup. Commonly known as Freon™, it was introduced in air conditioners during the 1950s and was widely used until 2010. That’s when it too was banned from use in new AC systems due to environmental impact.

However, if your AC system was built or installed before 2010, it likely uses R22. This can be an issue if the unit leaks refrigerant, as the R22 refrigerant was officially phased out in the U.S. in 2020. A service and recharge can cost nearly $1,000 since it has a limited and controlled supply.

R410A Refrigerant

R-410A refrigerant is more environmentally-friendly since it lacks the chlorine atom, which impacts the ozone layer when released. Known as Puron, it was developed in the early 1990s as more attention was given to repairing the ozone layer while still providing climate-controlled comfort to homes and businesses with air conditioners.

Puron offers several benefits, such as absorbing and releasing heat more efficiently. This, plus a lower condensation temperature, means your air conditioner won’t require as much electricity to produce cool air. Less electricity means lower utility bills for you.

R-32 Refrigerant

With a lower energy consumption by the air conditioner and less overall environmental impact, R-32 refrigerant is the newest refrigerant in use. AC systems with R-32 use nearly 20% less refrigerant than systems with R410A. This makes it less expensive to operate while being more efficient, giving you the desired indoor comfort for less money.

How Does Refrigerant Work?

The air conditioner’s fan pulls hot air from the home or business and moves it across the evaporator coils. These coils hold the liquid refrigerant, which absorbs the heat and turns it into a gas. The gas goes outside to the compressor as the system pushes cool air into the home or business. Inside the compressor, the gas pressure rises until it turns into liquid refrigerant again in the condenser coil. The cooling cycle begins again.

Can I Change the Refrigerant in my Existing Air Conditioner?

Unfortunately, no. Air conditioners are designed to operate with the refrigerant of manufacture. Adding or changing to a different refrigerant can damage the system, sometimes to the point of failure.

Signs Your AC Needs Refrigerant Work

If you suspect your air conditioner has a refrigerant leak, don’t try to fix it yourself and call a trained HVAC technician. Refrigerant is harmful if ingested, inhaled, or touched by humans and animals.

AC is on, but no cool air is coming out

Since refrigerant absorbs heat and humidity from the air, a low-level refrigerant level won’t be able to absorb the necessary amount, and the AC can only push out warm air. You may also notice less air coming from your home or office vents.

Higher than Usual or Increasing Electric Bills

Although most electric bills increase when a home or business uses the air conditioner, a spike or steady increase can signal a refrigerant leak. Without the recommended amount, the air conditioner tries to meet the thermostat temperature by cycling more often, thus using more electricity and increasing the monthly bill.

high energy bills

Coils are Frozen

The evaporator coil becomes too cold when an air conditioner operates without the appropriate amount of refrigerant. The cold refrigerant then flows backward in the refrigerant line, causing any moisture on the line to freeze. Unless repaired, the compressor itself may freeze, which can damage or destroy the part, causing a possible full system replacement.

You haven’t had a tune-up in a while

Regular AC system maintenance or tune-ups lets an HVAC technician find and repair a refrigerant leak before it becomes an issue. Since a tune-up is a health checkup for the system, it’ll last longer, operate more efficiently, and be within the manufacturer’s warranty.

You rely on your home or business’s air conditioner, which relies on the refrigerant inside to create a comfortable indoor environment. But if your AC has a refrigerant leak or any other issue, contact ProSkill Services for reliable HVAC service. 


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