Refrigerant is the magic that makes modern air conditioning and refrigeration systems work. You might hear technicians refer to refrigerants by a few names, including Freon, Puron, or R-410A. These names technically refer to different chemicals, although all refrigerants share similar properties that make them useful as a transport medium for heat.

However, despite the importance of refrigerant, many homeowners may be unaware of how it works or why it matters. Even worse, uninformed individuals may believe that they must routinely check or "top-up" their refrigerant. This guide will cover three things you should know about the refrigerant in your air conditioner so you can keep your system well-maintained and avoid costly repairs.

1. You Can't Easily Check Your Refrigerant Level

The refrigerant in your air conditioner has several interesting properties that make it valuable as a heat transfer fluid. In particular, refrigerant will boil at low temperatures, allowing it to change between a liquid and a vapor as it moves through your system. As a result, you cannot easily determine the refrigerant level in your system by checking a liquid level or a pressure.

Professional HVAC technicians use a specialized pressure manifold to check your high and low side pressure when needed. This process requires knowledge and interpretation, and a technician can't simply check the pressure levels while the system is off. Since this process is so complex, and because there's a risk of refrigerant loss or contamination when checking, it isn't a do-it-yourself job.

2. You Probably Won't See or Smell Refrigerant Leaks

If you imagine a refrigerant leak looking something like a fluid leak from your car, you're farther off base than expected. Recall that your refrigerant will boil at room temperature under normal atmospheric pressure. This property means refrigerant leaking out of your system will quickly vaporize, typically leaving no trace except a hard-to-notice oily spot.

Refrigerant isn't odorless, but it will usually escape so quickly and disperse into the atmosphere that you'll rarely smell a leak unless you're standing nearby. Small refrigerant leaks will often produce no detectable odor at all. If you suspect your system may have a leak, you'll almost always need a professional using specialized equipment and expertise to locate it.

3. Your System Doesn't Consume Refrigerant

While many air conditioning systems will eventually lose some refrigerant due to leaks, a modern air conditioner can theoretically use its original refrigerant charge for its entire life. The refrigerant loop in an air conditioner system is entirely closed, and your refrigerant will never consume refrigerant as part of its normal operation. No matter how hard you run your system, you'll never need to add more.

Why does it matter? The simple answer is that any refrigerant loss indicates a system leak. If an HVAC technician informs you that your system pressure is too low, you shouldn't expect to charge your system up and continue using it. Instead, you'll need a professional to locate and repair your leak to ensure your system can operate efficiently without the risk of further damage to your compressor. 

For more info about air conditioning services, contact a local company.