Your Guide to Air Conditioner Refrigerant

If the compressor is the heart of an air conditioner, then refrigerant is the blood. That is to say, you can’t have a working air conditioner without refrigerant. Despite the important role it plays in the cooling cycle, many homeowners may not know much about refrigerant unless they’re dealing with a leak. Here’s an easy guide to what you need to know about air conditioner refrigerant.

What refrigerant is

Refrigerant is a substance or mixture with a very low boiling point. It is used in all air conditioners, as well as other cooling items like refrigerators, freezers, and water coolers. Many different substances fit this definition, and many have been used as refrigerants in the various cooling systems of yesterday and today.

What refrigerant does

Refrigerant plays a vital role in heat exchange. This is the process that results in cool air for your home. Refrigerant runs through coils, lines, and the compressor within your air conditioner, absorbing heat as it boils or evaporates into a gas. By absorbing heat from its surroundings, refrigerant helps make the air cooler. At the end of the cooling cycle, refrigerant is pressurized within the compressor in order to turn it back into a liquid to be reheated during the next cycle.

Common refrigerant problems

Having too much, or too little, refrigerant can create a lot of problems for your air conditioner. These problems often go unnoticed, since refrigerant is an “out of sight, out of mind” thing for many homeowners. But, if left unaddressed, they can cost you a significant amount of money.

Too much refrigerant

Having too much refrigerant in your air conditioner is referred to as “overcharging”. An overcharge of refrigerant can cause the excess refrigerant to back up in the condenser. As temperature and pressure from this backup increase, the air conditioner will lose its cooling ability. You might suddenly find yourself setting the thermostat lower and lower as your home fails to cool down to a comfortable temperature.

An overcharge of refrigerant can do a real number on your compressor—one of the most important components of an air conditioner. The extra refrigerant can flood the compressor and damage it, in a process called “slugging”. If the compressor fails, you’re in for an expensive situation. Repairs are extremely costly, so much so that the most cost-effective solution is to replace the system altogether.

Too little refrigerant

Too little refrigerant is known as an “undercharge”. An air conditioner with too little refrigerant is like a person trying to do a strenuous workout while dehydrated—it won’t have the energy to get the job done. This means longer cooling cycles, which lead to higher energy bills.

Refrigerant leaks are one of the most common problems that result in a significant amount of air conditioner repairs. It’s also just about the only reason why your air conditioner could be low on refrigerant, since refrigerant does not get “used up” like gas in a car. Signs of a refrigerant leak include:

  • A hissing noise coming from the air conditioner
  • A home that fails to reach the temperature you set
  • Short cycling, or an air conditioner turning on and off constantly
  • Lukewarm air coming from vents

If you have a refrigerant leak, simply adding more refrigerant isn’t a solution. An HVAC technician will need to work to restore the charge of the system to the manufacturer’s specifications. Checking refrigerant levels and identifying leaks is one of the many services we provide as part of our 26-point maintenance plan.

R22 and R410A: What’s the difference?

You may have heard your HVAC contractor use terms like “Freon” or “Puron” when referring to refrigerant. These aren’t just two different brands—they’re substances with entirely different chemical building blocks and impacts on the environment.

Wondering which type of refrigerant your air conditioner uses? You can find the answer on a big sticker that’s located either on the compressor (outdoor unit) or evaporator (indoor unit). Most likely, the label will either read “R22” or “R410A”. R22 is Freon, and R10A is Puron.

If reading the sticker doesn’t help, there are other ways to find out what type of refrigerant is used in your air conditioner. If you know the manufacturer and model number, you can either call the manufacturer or check their website. Or, you can consult your owner’s manual. Contacting the company that services your air conditioner is another option as well, as they have firsthand experience with your system.

R22 (Freon)

R22, also known as Freon, is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC). For many years, it was the standard refrigerant used in residential air conditioners across the United States. This was until the EPA and other government entities decided the production and use of R22 would be phased out, due to concerns regarding its contribution to the depletion of the ozone layer. Beginning January 1, 2020, the multi-year phase out will be complete, and chemical manufacturers will no longer be permitted to produce R22 for the purposes of servicing existing air conditioners.

If your current air conditioner uses R-22 as its refrigerant, your window for having it repaired is growing smaller by the day. As it stands now, repairs with R-22 refrigerant are very expensive because there’s simply less of it being produced. You can’t replace R22 with R410A, because system parts aren’t compatible.  Rather than pay for a highly expensive repair with R22, it’s best to replace the unit altogether with one that uses R-410A, to guarantee that it will be supported for years to come.


R410A (Puron)

R410A, also known as Puron, is a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC). Unlike R22, R410A does not include chlorine in its chemical mixture, using fluorine. This chemical makeup is much safer for the environment, as it enables R410A to break down before it reaches the ozone layer. R410A is also exceptionally energy efficient, leading to lower energy costs for homeowners, as well as an overall quieter, more efficient system. With R410A, you can enjoy clean, cool, and efficient air conditioning along with the satisfaction of knowing that you’re making a smart choice for the environment as well.


How Chas Roberts can help

Whether you think you have a refrigerant leak, or are interested in upgrading to a new air conditioner that uses R410A, Chas Roberts is your go-to for all refrigerant-related questions, repairs, and replacements. We’ve been serving the Valley for over 75 years, and our tradition of superior service endures to this day. Contact us to get started.