What Makes It Cool? Your Complete Guide to Understanding AC Refrigerant


Almost 90% of households in the U.S. have some type of air-conditioning. Even among poorer households, that number is 75%. That means America uses a lot of AC refrigerant. 

Cooling our homes is a response to, but also a cause of, climate change and the warming planet.

AC refrigerant hasn’t always had the best record among the eco-conscious. But that’s changing. 

Do you know how your air conditioner makes things cool? Here’s what you need to know about AC refrigerant, the different types, and how it works. 

How AC Refrigerant Works

Refrigerant is a blend of chemicals that shifts between liquid and gaseous states. As the refrigerant moves through these states, it releases and absorbs heat. A compressor circulates the refrigerant through the AC system. 

The compressor converts the liquid refrigerant to a gas. The high-temp gas releases its heat in the outside coil of the AC unit. This happens through condensation. 

When the cooled refrigerant reaches the coil indoors, it evaporates as it hits the warm air. This pulls heat from the air, creating cooler air. 

The refrigerant reverts to its liquid state and moves back through the compressor, restarting the cycle. 

The first refrigerants were toxic and some were combustible. Due to the toxicity, early air conditioners were only found in industrial buildings. 

The AC Refrigerant Freon

The first non-toxic AC refrigerant blend was the trademarked Freon. Freon is also R22. The safety of Freon allowed for home AC units that soon spread throughout the U.S. 

The widespread use of air-conditioning was a boon to states with hot climates. Air-conditioned buildings drove company migrations to hotter, but more business-friendly, states. 

Although Freon is a non-toxic refrigerant, it contains chlorine and is not environmentally-friendly. It’s a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) that destroys the ozone layer. HCFCs are no longer used in new HVAC systems

The replacement for HCFCs? Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are less destructive to the environment. 

Modern AC Refrigerants

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There’s no chlorine in HFCs which is why they’re better for the environment. HFCs include R410A and R134. 

These are replacing R22 as older AC units are phased out. Newer AC systems are also more energy-efficient, offering better air quality. They’re also more reliable than the older systems. 

While these newer HFCs are safer than R22, that doesn’t make them 100% safe. Because of this, the government regulates these chemicals. 

Never work on your AC unit unless you’re licensed. And never dispose of your AC unit without conforming to government regulations. 

Keeping It Cool

Without AC refrigerants, your HVAC system can’t cool your home. But understanding refrigerants is important. 

The older HCFCs like Freon are destructive of the ozone layer, making them bad for the environment. 

If your HVAC system is old, now is a good time to consider investing in a new unit. Changing out the old system with a newer, more environmentally-conscious system is a good idea. 

Since newer systems are more efficient, in the long run, you’ll be saving money too!

Are you ready for a new AC system? Give us a call!

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