What is Refrigerant and why is it needed in Air Conditioning systems?

What is refrigerant?

Refrigerant is typically found in either a fluid or gaseous state. It is a compound that absorbs heat from the environment and can provide refrigeration or air conditioning when combined with components such as compressors and evaporators.

So, we can see that refrigerant is the vital component in producing air conditioning and refrigeration technology.

Air conditioning units contain refrigerant inside copper coils. As the refrigerant absorbs heat from indoor air, it transitions from a low-pressure gas to a high-pressure liquid. The refrigerant is then transferred to the outside where a fan blows air over the coils and exhausts the heat to the atmosphere.

The refrigerant then cools down, tuning back into a low-pressure gas. Another fan located inside the home blows air over the cool coils to distribute the resulting cold air throughout the building.

Refrigerant handling and safety

Refrigerant is typically stored at high-pressure in secure metal canisters, and must be handled with care and only by authorised personnel.  This is due to the potential risk to people and the environment, in the event of a refrigerant leak.

Over the years, refrigerant has become increasingly safer, but no refrigerant is 100% safe, hence the need for regulations around the handling of refrigerant.  F-gas certification allows engineers and contractors to purchase, handle, recover and replace refrigerant.

As a building owner you are legally obliged to have any equipment holding refrigerant, to have it serviced at least once a year, by a F-gas registered engineer.  Leaks can be harmful to people and to the environment and you could be legally liable in the event of negligence.

What are the different types of refrigerant?

The most common refrigerants used for air conditioning over the years include:

  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), including R12. This is very hazardous to the environment. Production of new stocks ceased in 1994.
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), including R22. Slightly less damaging to the environment than R12, but still nowhere near the safety of modern refrigerants. Any failing equipment should be replaced straight away with newer technology.
  • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), including R410A and R134. With no chlorine in the mix, this is safer for the environment and for people. Air conditioners that run on R410A are more efficient, offer better air quality, increased comfort and improved reliability

If your system is still running on R22 refrigerant, then you are cooling your building with an outdated and hazardous refrigerant.  While you are not obliged to upgrade your equipment straight away, any problems or leaks on the equipment, would ultimately result in the need for you to replace the unit.

While this will be an investment, it will pay off in the long run with a much more modern, reliable and energy-efficient alternative.

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