How HVAC Refrigerant Works in Your AC System

Published by Parisa Ostovari


It’s summer in Iowa, so your air conditioner is likely working overtime to keep your home cool during the 90- to 100-degree heat. But did you know that refrigerant is a crucial component of ensuring that your AC unit is running correctly? Let’s explore HVAC refrigerant and how it can keep your home cool throughout the summer.

What Is Refrigerant?

The term refrigerant refers to a chemical compound that can shift quickly from a fluid or a gaseous state. During this process, it absorbs heat and provides air conditioning or refrigeration when combined with other components, such as compressors and evaporators.

How Does Home AC Refrigerant Work?

Your air conditioner contains an HVAC refrigerant inside copper coils. As the refrigerant absorbs heat from your home, it transitions from a low-pressure gas to a high-pressure liquid. The air conditioning components send the refrigerant to the condenser outside, where a fan blows hot air over the coils and exhausts the heat. Once this happens, the refrigerant cools down in the evaporator and turns into a low-pressure gas. There is another fan inside your home that blows air over the coils to provide cool air for your home.

What Are the Types of Refrigerants?

Many of the traditional refrigerants used in air conditioners over the years have contained ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). For instance, CFCs in R-12 refrigerants were known to contribute to the greenhouse gas effect and were used until 1994. Then HCFCs in R-22 refrigerants were used since they were less damaging to the ozone than R-12 refrigerants. However, the EPA mandated a phase-out with the Clean Air Act of 2010, and R-22 refrigerants were completely phased out by 2020 due to new environmental standards.

Today, many AC units use R-410a refrigerants that contain hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). AC units that run on this refrigerant are typically more reliable and efficient and offer better air quality.

A new refrigerant, known as R-454b, is being produced to decrease the potential for ozone depletion and climate change and will be used as a replacement for R-410a in new equipment.

Why Does the Age of Your AC Unit Matter?

Your AC unit can last 15 years or longer if properly maintained, so it’s important to look at what refrigerant you use to better protect the environment. For instance, if your system was installed before 2010, you may have a system with R-22 refrigerant. After 2020, only used or reclaimed R-22 is available for system repairs, and it is costly. It may make sense to replace your unit with a newer model that uses R-410a refrigerant.

Should You Upgrade Your AC Unit?

If your current HVAC system is having issues keeping your home cool, it’s time to schedule annual maintenance. You could be running low on refrigerant or be experiencing other issues with your AC unit. Typically, the refrigerant will remain at the same level for the life of your air conditioner unless leaks occur or other issues pop up.

If your air conditioner is older than 10 years, it may be time to upgrade to a new unit. An air conditioner is not a small investment, and because there are many options out there it’s important you receive the best advice when it comes to what AC system is right for you and your home.

Whether you are looking to repair or replace your AC unit, a trusted HVAC professional can help you extend the longevity of your current system and make sure it’s operating at peak efficiency during the summer months; or help you determine the best replacement.