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What is AC Refrigerant & How Does It Affect Your AC System?

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Air conditioning systems are a crucial part of our daily lives, especially during scorching summers. But have you ever wondered what makes your AC unit cool the air? The answer lies in a component called AC refrigerant. 

Below, we will delve into the world of AC refrigerant, exploring its types, how it works, and how to identify the refrigerant in your air conditioner.

What Is AC Refrigerant?

AC refrigerant is a substance that plays a vital role in the cooling process of air conditioning systems. It is a special fluid that absorbs heat from the indoor environment and releases it outside, resulting in cool air circulation. So, essentially, it acts as a medium for transferring heat. AC refrigerant undergoes a continuous cycle of evaporation and condensation to achieve the desired cooling effect.

How Does Refrigeration Work in My AC?

To understand how AC refrigerant works, let’s take a closer look at the refrigeration cycle in your air conditioner. The process begins with the compressor, which squeezes the refrigerant gas, raising its pressure and temperature. This high-pressure gas then flows through the condenser coil, where it releases heat to the outside environment and condenses into a high-pressure liquid.

The liquid refrigerant then passes through an expansion valve, which reduces its pressure and temperature. As a result, the refrigerant evaporates into a low-pressure gas as it enters the evaporator coil. During this evaporation process, the refrigerant absorbs heat from the indoor air, cooling it down. Finally, the low-pressure gas returns to the compressor, and the cycle repeats.

Types of Refrigerants

Below are the common types of refrigerants used in commercial and residential air conditioning systems.


R410A is a popular type of AC refrigerant used in modern air conditioning systems. It is an environmentally friendly refrigerant that does not contribute to ozone depletion. R410A has excellent cooling properties and helps to enhance energy efficiency. It has become the standard refrigerant for residential and commercial AC units.


R22, also known as freon, was commonly used in older air conditioning systems. However, due to its harmful impact on the ozone layer, its production has been phased out. R22 is being replaced by more environmentally friendly alternatives like R410A.

HFC r134a

HFC r134a is another type of AC refrigerant used in certain automotive air conditioning systems. It is a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant that does not contain chlorine, making it ozone-friendly. However, it still contributes to global warming.


Puron is a brand name for R410A refrigerant, widely used in residential and commercial air conditioning systems. It offers high energy efficiency and is considered an environmentally friendly alternative to older refrigerants like R22.


CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons, were once commonly used as refrigerants but are now banned due to their harmful impact on the ozone layer. CFCs are no longer used in air conditioning systems.

HCFC Refrigerant

HCFCs, or hydrochlorofluorocarbons, are another type of refrigerant that has been phased out due to their ozone-depleting properties. HCFCs, like R22, are being replaced by more eco-friendly alternatives.

How Do I Know What Type of Refrigerant is in my Air Conditioner?

Determining the type of refrigerant in your air conditioner can be essential for maintenance and repairs. To find this information, you can check the manufacturer’s label on the unit itself. 

This label usually provides details about the refrigerant type and other specifications. Additionally, you can consult the user manual or contact the manufacturer or a certified HVAC technician for assistance.

Need HVAC servicing for your home? Schedule your air conditioning tune-up by giving us a call or filling out our contact form.

How to Tell If Your Air Conditioner Is Low on Refrigerant

If your air conditioner is low on refrigerant, it can significantly impact its cooling performance. Here are some signs that indicate your AC may be low on refrigerant:

  1. Your AC is not cooling your home: If your air conditioner is running but fails to cool your home adequately, it could be due to low refrigerant levels.
  2. Warm air is blowing through the vents: When the refrigerant is low, the air blowing from the vents may feel warm instead of cool.
  3. There is ice buildup on the refrigerant line or coil: Low refrigerant levels can cause ice to form on the refrigerant line or evaporator coil.
  4. You hear a hissing or bubbling noise: A hissing or bubbling sound coming from your AC unit could indicate a refrigerant leak.
  5. Your energy bills have skyrocketed: Insufficient refrigerant levels can lead to increased energy consumption, resulting in higher utility bills.

If you notice any of these signs, it is advisable to contact a professional HVAC technician to diagnose and address the issue promptly.

Section 608 From the EPA: What You Need to Know

Section 608 from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the handling and disposal of refrigerants to protect the environment and human health. This section requires HVAC technicians to be certified to handle refrigerants and follow proper procedures for their recovery, recycling, and disposal. 

It is crucial to ensure that any maintenance or repair work on your air conditioner is carried out by a certified technician who adheres to Section 608 guidelines.

Frequently Asked Questions About Air Conditioner Refrigerant

Can I mix different types of refrigerants in my air conditioner?

No, it is not recommended to mix different types of refrigerants in your air conditioner. Each refrigerant has its own specific properties and performance characteristics, and mixing them can lead to system malfunctions or damage.

How often should I check the refrigerant level in my air conditioner?

It is best to have a professional HVAC technician check the refrigerant level during routine maintenance visits. They can ensure that the refrigerant level is optimal and address any leaks or issues.

Can I recharge the refrigerant in my air conditioner myself?

It is not recommended for homeowners to recharge the refrigerant in their air conditioners themselves. Handling refrigerants requires specialized tools and knowledge, and improper handling can be dangerous and lead to further system damage.

What should I do if I suspect a refrigerant leak?

If you suspect a refrigerant leak in your air conditioner, it is important to contact a professional HVAC technician. They can locate and repair the leak, test the system for proper refrigerant levels, and ensure its safe operation.

Is it possible to retrofit an older air conditioner to use a new refrigerant?

Retrofitting an older air conditioner to use a new refrigerant is complex and depends on various factors. It is best to consult a qualified HVAC technician to assess the feasibility and potential benefits of retrofitting your specific system.

How can I improve the energy efficiency of my air conditioner?

Regular maintenance, including cleaning or replacing air filters, ensuring proper insulation, and scheduling annual professional tune-ups, can help improve the energy efficiency of your air conditioner. Additionally, upgrading to a newer, more energy-efficient unit can yield significant energy savings.

Can I dispose of refrigerants myself?

No, refrigerants should never be disposed of yourself. They contain harmful substances that can harm the environment. It is essential to follow proper disposal procedures and contact a certified HVAC technician or your local waste management facility for safe disposal.

What are the environmental impacts of refrigerants?

Refrigerants can have varying environmental impacts, including ozone depletion and contributing to global warming. It is crucial to use environmentally friendly refrigerants and follow proper handling and disposal practices to minimize these impacts.

Are all air conditioning systems compatible with eco-friendly refrigerants?

Not all air conditioning systems are compatible with eco-friendly refrigerants. Older systems may require retrofitting or upgrading to use newer, more environmentally friendly refrigerants. Consult with a qualified HVAC technician to assess the compatibility of your system.

What are the consequences of using the wrong type of refrigerant in my air conditioner?

Using the wrong type of refrigerant in your air conditioner can lead to system malfunctions, reduced cooling performance, and potential damage to the system components. It is crucial to use the recommended refrigerant specified by the manufacturer.

Fox Family Heating & Air serves Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, and all of Northern California. If you’re looking to schedule HVAC service in these areas, give us a call!

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