Before Adding Refrigerant to Your AC

Your air conditioner’s refrigerant is probably the one component of your cooling system that you don’t give much thought to — and yet it plays a significant role. Without the right amount of refrigerant, your air conditioner will not function properly.

Of course, you want to keep your air conditioner running during a North Carolina summer! But don’t worry; you don’t have to add more refrigerant to a working system. What may happen is a leak. If you have a leak, you may think you can patch it up and then add more refrigerant. Stop! The types of refrigerants used have changed and mixing the old and new chemicals can be highly dangerous.

Refrigerant 101
Air conditioners do not consume coolant. Instead, they recycle it during regular operation. So if a leak develops, the cooling fluid will escape. The AC will run for a while, but not well, and eventually, the system will break down, especially if repairs are delayed too long.

Refrigerants are chemical components of different substances. Refrigerants transform from liquid to gas and back during the HVAC cycle.

Because refrigerants are bad for the environment, the EPA has banned some of them, including R-22. R-22 is an ozone-depleting substance and will become phased out in early 2020.

No refrigerants are considered perfectly safe for the environment. They are classified into three main groups.

Types of Refrigerants:refrigerant kitchen

  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) – Chlorofluorocarbons are refrigerants that contain chlorine. CFCs are banned by the EPA. The recent ban means the conversion of existing HVAC systems is still in progress.
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) – These refrigerants are temporary replacements for CFCs and have been deemed fit by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) – Hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants do not contain chlorine. HFCs are considered less destructive to the ozone layer, although they still contribute massively to global warming.

The HVAC industry is in the process of changing over from CFCs such as R-22 to environmentally-friendlier R-410A refrigerant. In the meantime, it’s critical to realize that you cannot mix the two types. R410A and R22 refrigerants have to be charged in the system at different pressures. R410A is a higher-pressure system and R22 is a lower-pressure system. Neither will work well unless it’s optimized by your AC technician using the correct calculations. And ifthe twoare mixed together, there is no way to optimize the system charge. If you do mix the two, you might end up with compressor flood back, overheating, and a general loss of efficiency.

Converting an R-22 HVAC system to an R-410A is a major undertaking and is not a do-it-yourself project. While banned refrigerants need to be replaced, they aren’t meant to be mixed with new refrigerants.

Locate your refrigerant type on the unit’s nameplate, usually found on the outdoor condenser. If you don’t see that, contact the AC manufacturer or the company that sold you the unit.

What To Do If You Need New Refrigerant

Mixing refrigerants will result in reduced capacity and lower efficiency of your HVAC system. Currently, there is no process to recycle or filter mixed refrigerants. If you are replacing a unit, we will remove the old one for you. In the meantime, do not cut the lines or remove compression. However, if you have an old unit that’s been sitting around, your best bet isto check with your city or county for pickup. Raleigh and Durham offer bulky item pickup under certain conditions. You can also work with a private company or check out the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal database.

Instead, call 6 and Fix to take a look at your AC unit. We can talk to you about repairing the leak and your next steps.