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What Is Refrigerant and How Does It Help Your Air Conditioner?

Refrigerant is a compound typically found in either a fluid or gaseous state. It readily absorbs heat from the environment and can provide refrigeration or air conditioning when combined with other components such as compressors and evaporators. Let’s discuss how refrigerant works in your air conditioner, types of refrigerants, and governing laws.

How Refrigerant Works

Air conditioners contain refrigerant inside copper coils. As refrigerant absorbs heat from indoor air, it transitions from a low-pressure gas to a high-pressure liquid. Air conditioning components send the refrigerant outside where a fan blows hot air over the coils and exhausts it to the exterior.

The refrigerant then cools down and turns back into a low-pressure gas. Another fan located inside the home blows air over the cool coils to distribute the resulting cold air throughout the building. Then the cycle repeats.

Types of Refrigerants

The most common refrigerants used for air conditioning over the years include:

  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), including R12. This is known to contribute to the greenhouse gas effect. Production ceased in 1994. 

  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), including R22. Although slightly less damaging to the ozone than R12 was, the EPA mandated a phase out with the Clean Air Act of 2010. R22 was completely phased out by 2020. 

  • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), including R410A and R134. With no chlorine in the mix, HFCs are safer for the environment. Air conditioners that run on R410A are more efficient, reliable, and offer better air quality.

Laws Governing the Use of Refrigerant in Air Conditioners

Even though R410A is an HFC, it isn’t 100 percent safe. This fact has prompted the EPA to establish a few rules regarding the handling and disposal of refrigerant:

  • Intentionally venting refrigerant is prohibited. Low-loss fittings must be used to limit the amount of refrigerant released while purging, connecting or disconnecting air conditioners.
  • Technicians must do their best to recapture, recycle and dispose of refrigerant safely.
  • Air conditioners and other appliances that use refrigerant must be disposed of according to the EPA’s disposal rules.
  • Refrigerant leaks must be repaired within 30 days.
  • Only licensed heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) companies and technicians can purchase refrigerant.
  • Violation of these and other refrigerant regulations result in harsh punishments from the EPA, including fees of up to $37,500 per day.

Should You Upgrade Your AC Unit?

Check your air conditioner’s exterior component. If it lists R22, you’re cooling with an outdated, environmentally hazardous refrigerant. The EPA doesn’t require you to upgrade your equipment immediately. However, if a refrigerant leak occurs, repair may not be possible as R22 will become increasingly difficult to find. Additionally, R22 and R410A are not interchangeable.  

Instead of waiting for your older unit to break down consider upgrading now.  You’ll find that the increased efficiency and reliability are worth the investment. Contact your nearest Aire Serv® location for assistance. We offer free estimates, accurate sizing, flexible financing options and extended warranty plans for the best upgrade experience possible.

For Further Reading:

Best Ways to Remember to Change Your Filter

10 Signs Your System Needs a Tune Up

Which Air Filter Is Right for You?

Air Quality Testing