How Does Refrigerant Work in Your Air Conditioner?
How does R-22 work exactly and how does it end up cooling the air in your home? This brief summary should help clear things up.
What Is Refrigerant?
How does refrigerant work in your air conditioner?
First we need to define what a refrigerant actually is, it’s a fluid that can easily boil from a liquid into a vapor and back into a liquid again.
The most important part is that this process must be able to happen many times over continuously to work.
Did you know that water is actually considered a refrigerant? It can be moved from a liquid state to a gaseous state but it’s not utilized in air conditioning because specifically designed refrigerants can handle the cooling process more efficiently.
The most popular refrigerants on the market today are R410A, R134A (for refrigerators) and R22.
The low boiling points of these type of refrigerants make them the reason they are preferred over water. With such a low boiling point, the refrigerant can evaporate faster with less energy.
Some people think that the refrigerant is the matter that is blown into your home to cool it down.
Unfortunately, (and fortunately due to health reasons!) this is not how it works.
Your heating and cooling system is actually a “closed loop system” in that the refrigerant in your system should never leak out or need refilled.
If you are low on refrigerant, this means that you have a leak somewhere in your air conditioner and unless it is found and fixed, any new refrigerant that you put into it will just leak right back out again.
With this being said, let’s get into how refrigerant actually works with your air conditioner to cool your home.
The Refrigerant Cycle
Refrigerant is a gas that is actually converted into a liquid when cooled or compressed.
Your air conditioner’s compressor is the most important part of the system and it’s job is to compress the refrigerant, making it hot. The refrigerant starts off as a low temperature vapor at a very low pressure.
As the refrigerant moves through your air conditioner’s coils, it is eventually pulled in by the compressor at the expansion valve and is compressed causing it’s temperature to increase.
Once converted into a liquid, the refrigerant absorbs unwanted heat from the warm air at your evaporator coil via heat transfer, and then pushes the remaining cold air out via your blower motor in your furnace and your duct work to cool your home.
The heat that is absorbed at your indoor coil is sent back out to the condenser unit outside and released into the air as the fan blows.
This is why if you ever put your hand over the fan on your outside air conditioner the air that you feel will be hot. The mixture of the warm air from your home as well as the heat of the refrigerant is what you are feeling.
Your air conditioner actually also works as a big dehumidifier by removing humidity (water) from your indoor air as it runs.
During really hot days, you may notice your air conditioner leaking water in your basement due to humidity removal process.
If your unit is leaking water in large amounts or all over your floor, an air conditioner repair may be needed.
Refrigerant Phase Out
It should be noted that R-22 refrigerant has actually been phased out by the Government as of January, 1, 2020.
The United States is currently running on it’s final supplies as that specific kind of refrigerant is currently no longer being manufactured as of January 2015.
The new refrigerant being utilized is R410-A.
If you have an old air conditioner that is on its last legs, it is generally advised to replace it rather than put more R-22 refrigerant in it.
With R-22 being phased out, the cost of it has skyrocketed due to the limited supplies available.