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What is Refrigerant?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Refrigerant is, by definition, a substance that produces refrigeration. So refrigerant is used in anything that produces cold. Freezers, car air conditioners, home air conditioners, and of course refrigerators are all prime examples of where refrigerant is used. Each of the aforementioned examples uses different types of refrigerants. As usual I am going to focus on the two main types of residential air conditioning refrigerant. They are R-22 and R-410A.

So, how does refrigerant work you ask? In any air conditioning system there are four main components that contain refrigerant. They are the compressor, the outdoor coil, the indoor evaporator coil and the copper line set that runs between the two coils. Refrigerant has two states that it can be in and they are liquid and gas. Without going all technical on you here’s how it works.

The refrigerant leaves the compressor in a liquid state and it heads towards the indoor coil. When it reaches the indoor coil it passes though a thermal expansion valve before entering the coil causing the liquid to change phase and become a gas. The gas circulates through the evaporator coil absorbing heat and creating cold. As it leaves the evaporator coil it passes back into the outdoor coil which then releases the heat the refrigerant has absorbed and then back into the compressor which returns the refrigerant to its liquid state. The entire time the unit is running this cycle is taking place. Yay for air conditioning!!!

Okay we know how it works but what about the two types or refrigerant used in residential air conditioning. Let’s begin with R-22. R-22 is a chemical compound named (get ready) Chlorodifluoromethane. See why we call it R-22?! It was first used in the 1950’s and quickly became the go to refrigerant up until early 1991 when R-410 came on the scene. The Montreal Protocol determined that the amount of R-22 that was getting released into the atmosphere was doing some serious harm to our planet and the ozone layer so a ban was put in place.

The following time line has taken place. On January 1st 2004, the US ordered that production of R-22 be reduced by 35%, same date 2010 production reduced by 75%, same date 2015 production reduced 95% and on January 1st 2020 it will be completely phased out. All the R-22 we use today has been recycled which means it is extremely expensive. You can look on the outdoor unit label to find out if your air conditioning system still uses R-22. If so it might be time to consider an upgrade.

Let’s move on to R-410A. R-410A is a much more environmentally friendly refrigerant and is sold under several brand names such as Freon, Puron, Genetron and Suva. R-410A is more efficient in the heat exchange process described above thus the efficiencies of today’s air conditioners are much higher than in the days of R-22.

I’ve heard rumors that there is a new refrigerant in the works that is made using propane. Propane is actually one of the best gases to use as a refrigerant and was used in the early days. There was that nasty problem of explosions that saw the end of propane as a refrigerant. From what I’ve heard the guys with the really big brains and research laboratories have figured out a way to blend propane so it doesn’t go boom. Time will tell and we shall see the efficiencies in units of the future are supposed to boast much higher efficiencies.

Okay, I must take my leave, until next time my friends I was about to give a buddy of mine a nasty look and then I realized he already had one.

House Whisperer out!!


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