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The Role of Refrigerant in Your Air Conditioner

A common misunderstanding that people often have regarding air conditioning systems is that ice is used at some point in the process of cooling the air. This is why it’s easy to ignore the formation of ice along the evaporator coil—which is actually a sign of a major malfunction in the system that needs to be addressed.

The way that an air conditioner really works is through a process called heat exchange. This means the movement of heat from one place to another. In this case, moving heat from inside your home to the outside. In order to do this, the AC uses something called refrigerant.

How Refrigerant Works

Refrigerant is a heat transference fluid made up of a blend of chemicals. The earliest air conditioners used chemicals such as ammonia for refrigerant, but most of these chemicals were either toxic or highly combustible, making them unsuited for use outside of industrial buildings. Modern refrigerants are non-toxic blends. The one used in residential air conditioners today is known as R-410A.

Whatever the specific blend, a refrigerant is able to transition easily between liquid and gaseous states. The refrigerant starts in the compressor of the air conditioner, where pressure turns it into a hot gas. This gas condenses as it moves through the outdoor coil, causing the release of heat. The cooled refrigerant passes through an expansion valve that releases further pressure and causes the refrigerant to become a cold liquid. The liquid refrigerant then evaporates in the indoor coil, causing it to absorb heat. The air that is cooled as a result of this process is what is sent into the home’s ventilation system.

Beware a Loss of Refrigerant

At no point in the process of condensing and evaporating does the refrigerant dissipate. The amount of refrigerant in an air conditioner (known as the AC’s charge) remains stable for the system’s lifespan… unless leaks occur. If an air conditioner’s charge drops, it will not only impair the system’s cooling ability, it will lead to catastrophic damage to the compressor. This is why you should never hesitate to call for professional repairs when you notice that an air conditioner isn’t keeping up with the heat.

When you need air conditioning repair in Arlington or elsewhere in Northern Virginia, call on Oasis Heating, A/C & Refrigeration.

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