The modern air conditioner is a complex type of refrigeration equipment, and it takes years of special training to know how to install, repair, and maintain one. However, it’s easy to teach someone the basics of how an AC works, and knowing some of the rudiments of air conditioning operation can be helpful for a homeowner when it comes to knowing when to call professionals for service.
A good piece of information to know about air conditioners is how they use the refrigerant in their system. The question in the title of this blog is one that HVAC technicians often hear from homeowners, and answering it requires explaining what refrigerant is and what it does in an AC.
Refrigerant isn’t a fuel and an AC will not run out of it—normally
An air conditioner takes its energy from the home’s electrical system: that’s its “fuel” source, that’s what powers it. Refrigerant, on the other hand, isn’t a source of power to the air conditioner. Rather, it’s what the air conditioner uses to move thermal energy from one place to another. The chemical blend that makes up refrigerant (sometimes called Freon, which is actually a trademarked name for certain refrigerant blends) goes through a process of evaporation and condensation that absorbs heat from inside a house, cooling it down, and the releases it to the outside.
Here’s the important part: the refrigerant doesn’t get used up or dissipate during this process. It will remain at the same level, known as the air conditioner’s charge, for the entire life of the cooling system.
There’s one exception: leaks occurring along the copper refrigerant line or at connection points. This will allow refrigerant to escape, which will put the whole AC in jeopardy. If you hear a hissing sound from the air conditioner, notice ice appearing along the indoor coil, or detect a drop in cooling power, it might mean refrigerant leaks. Call for our air conditioning professionals: only licensed HVAC technicians can properly seal the leaks and recharge the refrigerant.