Most homeowners don’t actually know how air conditioners work. They just know that they do, and to call for repairs when theirs stops working. You certainly don’t need to know how your air conditioner works in order to make proper use of it.

Still, knowing a bit more about it can help you to recognize when yours is in poor shape, and may even help you to know when to call for repairs. We’re not going to get into the specifics of how every single part of the air conditioner operates in this blog post. One thing we are going to do, though, is go over the vital role that refrigerant plays in air conditioning.

What is Refrigerant?

Briefly, refrigerant is the heat transfer fluid that your air conditioner uses to remove heat from your home. There is no one type of fluid called “refrigerant.” It’s simply the general term for a variety of different fluids that do basically the same thing.

How Refrigerant is Used

Let’s use a centralized, split air conditioner as an example for how refrigerant is used. These are the most common type of air conditioning system, so chances are your specific air conditioner acts exactly like this. There are two coils in a standard air conditioner, the evaporator coil located inside the home, and the condenser coil located outside. The evaporator coil evaporates refrigerant while the system is operating, absorbing heat from the air in the ducts.

The refrigerant gas, now holding the heat it just absorbed from your home’s air, is pumped outside to the condenser coil. The condenser coil condenses the refrigerant gas back into liquid, venting the collected heat outside, before pumping it back to the evaporator coil to start the process all over again. This is how your air conditioner cools your home.

Problems with Refrigerant and Air Conditioning

Because refrigerant is key to how your air conditioning system works, problems with the refrigerant supply can affect your air conditioner in some pretty severe ways. A refrigerant leak can form due to corrosion in the line, and begin to drain the system of the fluid. As the refrigerant level in the air conditioner drops, the system’s ability to cool the home will drop as well. At some point, the system’s refrigerant levels can drop so low that the air conditioner will break down entirely. It’s important that you call for repairs as soon as you notice fluid of any kind leaking from your air conditioner, just in-case it’s a refrigerant leak.

Due to how the refrigerant absorbs heat from the air in the ducts, it is also important that you keep your air conditioner’s air filter clean by changing it every three months or so. If you don’t, the air flow to the coil will be blocked when the filter clogs. The condensate that forms on the coil as a natural byproduct of evaporating refrigerant will freeze, and the coil will ice over. While the coil is frozen, the system won’t be able to siphon heat from the air properly.

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