HVAC Refrigeration Process and the Role of Refrigerants

An HVAC system provides complete temperature control inside a home during cold and warm seasons. When an HVAC system is working efficiently, a homeowner will appreciate the comfort and reliability of perfect indoor air temperature upon turning the thermostat on. Complete HVAC refrigeration and heating systems include the following important parts:

• Thermostat
• Furnace
• Evaporation coil
• Condensing unit
• Vents
• Refrigerant lines

These basic parts of an HVAC system may differ according to the desired set-up. As we focus on HVAC refrigeration in this article, you will learn more about how the cooling process of your HVAC system works.

Different types of HVAC systems

In choosing the right type of HVAC system for your home, you need to understand how each type of system works, to find the most suitable option for your home. Especially with combined heating and HVAC refrigeration, narrowing down your choices and focusing on your needs will help you find the system that works best for your home.

1. Split system heating and air conditioning. This is the most common set-up you will find in homes today. A split system consists of components located inside and outside the home. The HVAC refrigeration and air conditioning unit is usually located outside the house while the furnace or heating component is placed inside. To distribute treated air around the house, a split HVAC system features ducts and vents located in various rooms inside the house. You can add accessories such as humidifiers and air purifiers to your HVAC system to make it more modern and efficient.

2. Ductless split system. This type of air conditioning system functions without ducts to distribute treated air. The system often consists of a heat pump or an air conditioning unit, a fan coil, wires, and tubing. The wires and tubes connect the outdoor unit to the fan coil which distributes treated air inside the home.

3. Zoned HVAC system. This type of HVAC refrigeration system gives you more control over temperature settings in individual areas of your home. Valves or dampers installed within ductwork allows you to block air flow. Controlling temperature in different areas of your home helps in saving money.

4. HVAC system with humidity control. In areas of the country where summers can be extremely hot, humidity needs to be controlled as much as temperature does. A majority of modern HVAC systems have features for controlling humidity. If you want your HVAC system to be a worthy investment, you should not only think about cooling the air, but must have a humidity control feature as well.

In choosing an HVAC unit, size is also important. When the unit is too large for the needs of the home, it will underperform. In the same manner, if the air conditioning unit is too small, it will not provide efficient cooling and lead to wear and tear. To calculate the best HVAC unit size for your home, contact a professional HVAC contractor.

How does HVAC refrigeration work?

The air conditioning process works by taking advantage of a law in physics where heat absorption occurs as liquid turns to gas. HVAC refrigeration uses a special type of chemical compound called a refrigerant which is forced to evaporate and condense in a continuous cycle to cool air.

An air conditioning system also consists of a fan which forces warm air into the evaporation coils. When warm air gets in contact with the refrigerant, the refrigerant absorbs the heat as it changes from liquid to gas. To maintain efficient cooling, the refrigerant should convert back to liquid form. A compressor converts liquid refrigerant back to gas through high pressure. This cycle repeats endlessly to keep a consistent cooling process.

Different types of refrigerant

It is interesting to learn that refrigerants are single-handedly responsible for much of an HVAC refrigeration system’s working process. These chemical compounds have been around for quite some time and perhaps we can all agree that without this invention, we would not have the comfort of air conditioning during warm weather.

In recent years however, environmental concerns and international treaty agreements changed the chemical make-up of most refrigerants used today. In the past, refrigerants used to contain chlorine atoms. Research found that these chlorine atoms were responsible for damaging the ozone layer. Today, refrigerants with chlorine atoms are slowly getting phased out in favor of more environment-friendly formulations. For residential HVAC refrigeration systems, there are two common types of refrigerants used:

• R-22 or Freon. This is the conventional refrigerant used in almost all HVAC systems until production was discontinued beginning 2010. It contains chlorine atoms known to have an effect to the Ozone layer. As such, there are still some HVAC systems using this type of refrigerant today but as supplies begin to decrease, prices will increase, thus paving the way for safer alternatives.

• R410A or Puron. This type of refrigerant is considered less harmful for the environment but has the same cooling capacity as Freon.

However, if your existing HVAC refrigeration system currently uses Freon, you cannot immediately change it to Puron. You need to have a system specifically designed to work with Puron refrigerant. Aside from being better for the environment, Puron is also reliable and operate quieter.

Aside from these two types of refrigerants, here are other suitable alternatives to Freon which are safer for the environment

1. R-134A or Norflurane
2. R-407C
3. R-404 A
4. R-410 A

By year 2030, Freon will be completely illegal. The alternatives mentioned above will ensure that systems relying on refrigerants will continue to function even without using Freon.

Importance of checking for AC refrigerant leaks

A reliable HVAC refrigeration systems should consistently cool temperature according to the thermostat setting. One of the common problems encountered by homeowners is a refrigerant leak. When this happens, the system will work inefficiently and you will notice some tell-tale signs indicating that something needs fixing. Here are signs of a possible AC refrigerant leak:

• Inefficient cooling power. We all know that refrigerant is responsible for cooling warm air that circulates around the home. Low refrigerant levels mean there is lesser capability to absorb heat; hence, it will take longer to cool your home than usual. If you find yourself always adjusting the thermostat to a lower setting, it might be time to contact an HVAC technician to check for refrigerant leaks.

• Air coming from the vents aren’t cool enough. Another sign of a possible AC refrigerant leak is when air blowing from vents are warmer than usual.

• The indoor unit starts to emit hissing sounds. Anytime you hear unusual sounds or noise coming from your HVAC system, you should not ignore it. These sounds could mean there are holes or tears in the coils causing AC refrigerant to leak, or it could be attributed to a more severe problem with your air conditioning system.

• Frozen coils. Insufficient refrigerant levels my result the condensation on the coils to freeze. Ice forming on the coils may also start to melt and drip. Some homeowners think it is normal to see ice forming on the condensation coils. However, once the ice melts, it could cause the system to break down and end up costing you more on repairs and replacement. Every time you notice ice forming on the coils, have the HVAC refrigeration checked by a technician.

• You are paying more on your electric bills. For someone who lives a busy lifestyle, it is easy to overlook these tell-tale signs.
However, when you do notice that your utility bills are getting higher each month, you may want to evaluate what could be causing it.
If consumption has not increased, it is time to have your HVAC system serviced.

One you have identified that refrigerant levels are lower than normal, do you immediately proceed with refilling your refrigerant? What is the best course of action when you encounter this problem?

What to do when your home AC refrigerant leaks

While the signs mentioned above point to a possibility of an AC refrigerant leak, you should not hastily cut corners and assume than refilling your refrigerant is the solution. The first thing you need to do is to contact a reputable HVAC contractor like Fischer Heating to give your system a thorough once over. It is essential to isolate the true cause of the problem before offering a solution. For example, your HVAC system may only need air filter replacements instead of a refrigerant refill. Preventive measures such as cleaning dirt build-up and giving your HVAC unit a tune-up could be the solution.

If there is substantial damage to the coils, the HVAC technician will also advice if replacing the coils is a better recourse than simply repairing the holes. The HVAC technician should assist you in calculating which the more cost-effective solution. Keep in mind that there are times when investing in a new HVAC system may be a better choice than repairing an old malfunctioning one.

For all your repairs, maintenance, installation, and HVAC refrigeration needs, trust only a local HVAC company like Fischer Heating to give you professional services at a price point you can afford.

Image Copyright: Jovan Mandic / 123RF Stock Photo