The Trouble with Freon

The cooling agent in your air conditioner, called a “refrigerant”, is the substance that your unit uses to turn warm air into cool air. A common refrigerant used is HCFC-22, also called R-22 but most often referred to as “Freon”.

HCFC is the acronym for hydrochlorofluorocarbons (no wonder they shorten it to HCFC). HCFCs are known to be damaging to the Earth’s ozone layer and the US Environmental Protection Agency has very strict regulations concerning the use and handling of Freon. 

Only licensed HVAC contractors are allowed to purchase Freon, and any technicians involved in the repair or maintenance of cooling equipment were required to be EPA-certified in the safe handling of Freon. Violation of the regulations could result in stiff fines of up to $37,500 a day. Obviously, the EPA takes refrigerants very seriously.

The EPA is now taking it a step further.

As of January 1st, 2020, a ban on R-22 is being imposed. R-22 will no longer be produced or imported.

What Does the EPA Ban on R-22 Mean for You?

An EPA-approved alternative to R-22 is R-410A, a more environmentally-friendly refrigerant. All air conditioning units produced in the last two years use R-410A; some older units use R-22.

This does not mean to say that R-22 will be totally unavailable as of the beginning of the year, but it does mean that the supply will be limited to already-existing inventories which will deplete rapidly. Once those inventories are used up, there will be no more R-22 available for air conditioning units designed for its use. 

This has one immediate implication for those with R-22 a/c units. It seems likely that those suppliers who have inventories of R-22 will be charging premium prices for it. That means that servicing an older a/c unit with R-22 will become much more expensive, and only possible for as long as the R-22 inventories last.

Can R-410A be Used in an R-22 System?

The short answer is no. R-410A cannot be used in an R-22 system. 

R-410A is charged at a higher pressure than R-22, it has a different evaporation/condensation temperature, and uses a different compressor oil. If you want to use R-410A in an R-22 system, you have to remove the compressor, flush out the old oil and replace it with new oil because R-410A won’t mix properly with the oil designed for R-22. Additionally, the condenser coil size might have to be changed, the accumulator may have to be changed, and the flow control valve might have to be replaced. By the time you’ve done all that, the bill would be very high, so much so that you’re much further ahead to get a new unit, one that runs on R-410A.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that you can use R-410A in an R-22 system without replacing the compressor oil and some other components. Trying to use R-410A in an R-22 system without the (very expensive) modifications is courting disaster. The best-case scenario is that the unit will merely fail when your compressor burns out in a month or two. Worst-case scenario is that something in your system will rupture or burst or explode.

Bottom line is that continuing to maintain an R-22 system is undoubtedly going to become more and more expensive. If you have an R-22 system, you should consider replacing it with a new system.

The certified and experienced technicians at Forney Air can help you select an energy-efficient central air conditioning system that is right for your home. Call us at 214-9745 for expert advice and prompt service.

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