We get the above question a lot from homeowners, especially during the spring when they’re trying to get their air conditioners ready for the added stress of summer. It’s a perfectly valid question, and one that we wanted to address here on the off chance that anyone else out there was planning to ask their HVAC technicians the same thing. Let’s take a look at how refrigerant interacts with your air conditioner, and when it needs to be refilled.
The Role of Refrigerant
Refrigerant is like the blood of your air conditioner in many ways. It serves a central role in the system, and without it the air conditioner can’t function. During operation, your air conditioner evaporates refrigerant to absorb thermal energy from the warm air being circulated through your ducts. Then, the hot refrigerant gas is sent down the refrigerant line to the outside unit. There, the gas is condensed back into liquid to vent the heat out of your home. So the air conditioner is constantly evaporating and condensing refrigerant to siphon heat out of your home and cool it.
The refrigerant in your air conditioner is never actually consumed during the system’s operation. It’s merely recycled back and forth to move thermal energy. So in ideal circumstances your air conditioner’s initial refrigerant charge should be enough to last its entire life. The only time when this is not the case is when a leak develops in the system’s refrigerant line. If that happens, it will slowly drain the system of the fluid it needs in order to operate. If you notice your air conditioner leaking fluid, you should call for repairs right away. Otherwise, don’t worry about your system’s refrigerant levels.