Most of us don’t even think about the refrigerant in our air conditioning systems unless the equipment stops working or a technician tells us we have a leak. And while you may be content to leave all things technical to your service provider, it’s important for homeowners to understand the current changes in refrigerant legislation and why R-22 vs. R-410A is a hot topic. Doing so will prepare you for any changes you need to make and can save you money in the long run.
What is AC Refrigerant and How Does it Work?
The heart of a central air conditioner is the compressor, a motor-driven component responsible for circulating refrigerant through the system. So, if the compressor is the heart, then the refrigerant is the life-blood pumping through it.
Refrigerant changes from a liquid to a gas and then back to a liquid on a continuous cycle. And as it does, it absorbs and releases heat. The compressor changes liquid refrigerant into a high-pressure, high-temperature gas. The refrigerant moves to the outside coil of the air conditioner and releases its heat there through condensation, cooling down. By the time it reaches the indoor coil, it has cooled down to the point that it causes evaporation when it meets warmer indoor air. This cools down the air by extracting heat. The refrigerant, once again a liquid, then returns to the compressor to restart the cycle.
Types of AC Refrigerant
You mean there’s more than one type of refrigerant? Yes, and this is the part that’s most important to understand.
R-22, more commonly known as Freon, had been used as a central air conditioning system refrigerant for decades. But it was linked as a major contributor to environmental damage and ozone depletion. Because of this, the Clean Air Act was passed, banning the production and import of R-22 by January 2010. As a result, manufacturers of heat pump and air conditioning equipment redesigned their systems to accommodate a new, chlorine-free refrigerant. R-22 has been completely phased out now since 2020. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still legally in use. The ban on R-22 doesn’t affect homeowners who want to continue to utilize their functioning R-22 air conditioning systems. But if the equipment needs to be charged with refrigerant, you’ll have to rely on locating stockpiles of R-22 that may be costly due to low supply.
R-410A, also known as Puron, is the replacement for R-22. It doesn’t have the problematic chlorine in the mixture so it’s less harmful to the environment. Yet it retains the same cooling properties. And AC systems that run on R-410A are more efficient, offer better air quality as well as increased comfort and reliability.
The catch is that you can’t use R-410A in your R-22 system. They are not compatible.
Can I Retrofit My Old AC System?
Unfortunately, no. R-410A requires significantly more pressure and the compressors on R22 systems can’t produce that level. Though retrofitting may be an option for a few units depending on the model, the process is expensive and complicated. And still more units can’t be retrofitted at all.
How Do I Know What AC Refrigerant My System Uses?
It’s easy to tell what type of refrigerant your AC system uses. Look at the label on the condenser unit outside of your home. It should be clearly marked. If you don’t see it, call your air conditioning service provider. They have a record of your system specifications from previous service calls.
If My System Uses R-22, What Are My Options?
First, if your system is working well, you have no leaks, and your service provider isn’t becoming a regular face at your door to recharge the system, you probably don’t need to do anything right away.
But if your system develops a leak and needs refrigerant added, it will become harder and harder to obtain R-22. The cost is skyrocketing, and retrofitting the system isn’t feasible. You’ll need to consider replacement. And if your unit is more than 15-20 years old, you may have seen other signs that a new unit is your best option.
Levco Can Help
In almost all cases, Levco technicians recommend upgrading to a new system. Modern air conditioning systems last longer, are more efficient, have a smaller carbon footprint, and offer significant savings on energy costs.
Levco’s HVAC service specialists can perform an equipment evaluation for you and are available by telephone or an in-home visit to answer any questions you may have. Contact us today!
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