Is Refrigerant Different in a Heat Pump Than in an Air Conditioner?

tool-bag-on-air-conditionerHeat pumps are similar in most ways to air conditioning systems. Essentially, a heat pump is an air conditioner that’s capable of reversing the direction it operates so that instead of removing heat from inside a home and then releasing it outside, it absorbs heat from the outside and releases it inside. All it takes is an adjustment to the thermostat to shift the heat pump from one mode to the other. The thermostat signals to a component called the reversing valve in the heat pump, and it redirects the flow of refrigerant to change the direction the heat pump works.

So both air conditioners and heat pumps use refrigerant to work. But do heat pumps require a different type of refrigerant, or are there any other differences with how refrigerant works in the heat pump?

The Refrigerant Is the Same Blend As in an AC

To answer the first question, residential air conditioners and heat pumps use the same standard refrigerant blend. For most systems built after 2010, this is a blend called R-410A, a non-ozone depleting mixture that is replacing the previous standard, R-22. The complete phaseout of R-22 will be finished by 2020, after which no further R-22 can be manufactured. (If you have an aging AC that uses R-22, we recommend you consider having the system replaced this coming fall when the heat subsides.)

R-410A works identically in either an air conditioner or a heat pump: as it moves through the condenser coil, it condenses to release heat, and then as it moves through the evaporator coil, it evaporates to absorb heat. The refrigerant doesn’t dissipate as it moves between gaseous and liquid state, so unless the heat pump or AC develops leaks, the refrigerant will remain at the same charge for the life of the system.

One Important Heat Pump Difference

To the second question: There is one way that refrigerant acts differently in a heat pump. As a heat pump switches from cooling mode to heating mode, it uses less refrigerant to do its job. So what happens to the extra refrigerant during heating mode? It’s stored in the suction line accumulator, which is also designed to prevent cold refrigerant from entering into the compressor, a situation that can cause serious damage leading to the compressor burning out. For the most part, you don’t even have to think about this. A heat pump is designed to move easily from one mode to the other. If you do encounter problems with a heat pump that appears to be stuck in one mode or another, you should call on professionals to look into it and fix it.

For heat pump and air conditioning service in Scio, OR or elsewhere in the Willamette Valley, you can trust to our expert team to take on the work. We are certified as Diamond Dealers for both Trane and Mitsubishi, so you know you’ll have the best trained technicians on the job. Our team members are on-call 24 hours a day to assist you.

Midway Mechanical Inc. has served the Willamette Valley for over 40 years. Give us a call today and experience our company’s exceptional customer service!

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