HVAC Basics: Understanding Refrigerant

HVAC Basics: Understanding RefrigerantIf you’re like most homeowners, you have only a vague understanding of how your central air conditioner works. As long as it’s keeping your home cool during a hot Indiana summer, it might as well be magic. But realistically, having a basic understanding of the refrigeration process at the heart of air conditioning will help you troubleshoot problems with your A/C and make you a better informed consumer when shopping for a new cooling system.

How Does an A/C Cool the Home?

Many people incorrectly think that an air conditioner cools the outside air and then brings it inside the house. An A/C actually removes heat energy from the air, which leaves behind cooler air. So cooling, technically, is the subtraction of heat. A chemical solution called refrigerant or coolant is used to do this. Its ability to convert easily from a liquid into a gas and back again makes it an ideal heat-exchange agent. You may have heard coolant referred to as “freon,” though this is a brand name for a refrigerant solution that’s no longer used in air conditioners.

In a standard split-system A/C, the refrigerant is pumped into home and then run through a copper coil in the interior air handler/evaporator (or an evaporator unit attached to the furnace blower). Before the coolant flows into the evaporator coil, an expansion valve releases pressure on the liquid refrigerant, which evaporates and turns into a gas. This conversion extracts heat energy from air that’s being blown across the coil, which lowers its temperature. The blower fan then circulates the cool air throughout the house, and then back to the air handler.

The gaseous refrigerant is then pumped outside to the condensing/compressor unit, where the gas is compressed and converted back into a liquid. This process releases the heat energy into air that’s being blown across the condensing coil, which is then dispersed into the environment. The liquefied coolant is then pumped back into the house, repeating the process.

For answers to questions about your Fort Wayne area home’s air conditioner, please contact us at Hartman Brothers Heating & Air Conditioning.

Our goal is to help educate our customers in New Haven, Indiana and surrounding Fort Wayne area about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems). For more information about refrigerant and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Guide or call us at 260-376-2961.

Credit/Copyright Attribution: “Alhovik/Shutterstock”

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    Richard Hartman Richard Hartman has worked in many capacities: service, installations, and production of sheet metal since the early years of the business.... More »