You may have heard the term Freon before. This is actually a brand name given to a very important component within your air conditioner, and that’s chemical refrigerant. Without this refrigerant, your cooling system is nothing more than a large house fan. Fans can certainly help out a bit in hot weather, however if you really want to achieve comfort during the summer, then you need a highly effective and efficient air conditioner. And for that, you need refrigerant.
What many homeowners don’t understand is just how refrigerant works in their air conditioner. As such, a common question we get from homeowners is, “how often do I need to refill Freon?” The short answer to how often you should have to replace—what we call recharge—refrigerant is, “hopefully never!” We’ll explain below.
Refrigerant Isn’t a Fuel Source
This is a pretty common misconception among homeowners—that refrigerant is an energy source that powers their air conditioner just like gasoline does a car.
But that’s not what refrigerant is. Rather, it’s a chemical blend that enables the transfer of heat from one place to another. The actual energy source of the air conditioning system is electricity. The system consumes electricity in order to power the components that circulate the refrigerant.
This energy causes the refrigerant to heat up and turn into a high-pressure gas, which makes it move through your AC system, first to condense in the outdoor coil and release heat, and then to pass through the indoor coil and evaporate in order to absorb heat. This switch between hot gas and cold liquid is what enables your AC to cool your home.
So, what happens to the refrigerant as it changes from gas to liquid and back again? Well, it recycles. That’s right, none of it gets used up, and none of it dissipates. The refrigerant will (should) stay at the same level—charge—for the life of your air conditioning system, continually circulating.
Refrigerant Can Leak
As we said, your refrigerant doesn’t run out. But what if you find it’s exiting your system, or your air conditioner is showing signs of low refrigerant such as low cooling power? Well, then you have a refrigerant leak. This leak must be located by a professional and repaired so that the system doesn’t continue to lose this valuable fluid.
Aside from low cooling power, there are signs you can watch and listen for that indicates a refrigerant leak has occurred or is occurring. For instance, ice development on the evaporator coil is a sign of just this. You might think ice is normal on an AC system, but we assure you that it is not.
Another indicator is a hissing or bubbling sound coming from your air conditioner while it’s running. What you’re hearing is refrigerant leaving your system, either in gas form or liquid form. Not only is this detrimental to your AC system, but it can potentially be harmful to your household. This is why we urge you to call for repairs right away if you suspect this is occurring.