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Air Conditioning Refrigerant Explained

charging-refrigerant

Refrigerant is an essential part of your air conditioner. In a sense, you can think of it as the lifeblood of the system.

It’s not very common to experience AC issues that deal with the refrigerant, but they’re certainly known to happen on occasion. In that case, we’d rather have you be prepared by understanding what refrigerant is, what those problems are, and how you should respond.

So, What Is It?

Refrigerant is a blend of chemicals that courses through copper or steel tubing in your air conditioner. Central air conditioners, heat pumps, and ductless mini-splits are refrigerant-based systems. They’ll be charged with a specific amount of refrigerant during their installation.

The purpose of refrigerant is to help facilitate the transfer of heat between the condenser coil and the evaporator coil. As air blows over the coils, the refrigerant changes phases. This allows warm air inside your home to be absorbed and then dispersed outdoors.

If the system is a heat pump, the flow of refrigerant can be reversed with a reversing valve. This removes heat from outside and sends it inside, instead.

Loss of Refrigerant Isn’t Normal

Now, this is where some people get it wrong… They’re led to believe that refrigerant is like a fuel or an oil. That is, they believe that the refrigerant needs to be changed out or replaced overtime. However, that’s just not true—refrigerant is much more like the blood that runs in our veins. There’s no reason for us to lose any of it, and it’s vital to our ability to function. (Of course, refrigerant is not going to just replenish itself!).

Unfortunately, this misconception can lead to some homeowners getting tricked by less-than-reputable HVAC techs or handymen. They’ll tout the benefits of “topping off” or recharging the refrigerant periodically. There are only two cases where that would be necessary:

  • The refrigerant was never charged properly in the first place. This means the AC has been running with less than the optimal amount, and that may have damaged the compressor by now.
  • The refrigerant is leaking. Rather than continually recharging the refrigerant, the correct course of action is to correct the leak!

The Dangers of Leaking Refrigerant

If refrigerant is leaking from your system, you’ll want to turn off the AC immediately and call in for air conditioning repair in Tacoma, WA.

Continuing to run a leak without having it repaired can lead to a series of problems, such as:

  • Frozen Evaporator Coil: The unit located inside the AC’s indoor unit can freeze over if there isn’t enough refrigerant in the system. This will restrict airflow and prevent the system from cooling the home, but at this point, the leak is the bigger problem.
  • Compressor Failure: The compressor is what allows the refrigerant to cycle back and forth through the system. It’s also one of the most expensive components. Insufficient refrigerant can damage this component permanently.
  • No Cooling Power: Too much lost refrigerant will prevent the AC from working properly at all.

Contact Miller Comfort Systems today to schedule a service. Wireworx Electric and Miller Comfort Systems, Together We Enlighten Your Climate.

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