At one time, R22, commonly known by its brand name Freon, was used as refrigerant in nearly every residential air conditioner throughout the country. More recently, R401A or Puron has taken its place. Over the past decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been slowly phasing out the use of R22. If you haven’t replaced the air conditioner in your Farmington Hills, Michigan, home in the past 10 years, now is a good time to start planning for this installation. Learn how R401A differs from R22 and why upgrading to this new refrigerant is so important.
R22 Depletes the Ozone Layer
Freon is an ozone-depleting substance (ODS). It is a hydrofluorochlorocarbon (HCFC) that both breaks down the earth’s ozone layer and contributes to global warming through the production of greenhouse gases. By the year 2030, many nations throughout the world will stop producing and using HCFCs altogether. The United States is one of them. With Freon having long been the industry standard for residential air conditioner refrigerants, its overall impact on the environment to date has already been substantial.
The R22 Phase-Out
Throughout the U.S., the public and private sectors were heavily reliant upon the sale and use of Freon for many decades. Thus, eliminating R22 by implementing a government ban on this refrigerant required a measured and strategic approach. Rather than outlawing it immediately, the EPA established a two-part plan. To start, the production of air conditioners that use R22 was banned in 2010. Although existing R22 ACs can still be lawfully sold, new models are not being designed and manufactured anywhere in the United States. Since January 2010, all new air conditioner models have been designed to use R401A instead.
In 2020, the manufacture and importation of Freon was banned as well. While many homes still have R22 conditioners, all Freon recharge services must be performed with existing Freon stores. When national Freon supplies run out, homeowners who still haven’t upgraded to R401A air conditioners will have to pay for these improvements right away or miss out on air conditioning.
The Rising Costs of Freon
Given that the current supply of Freon is a finite one, the cost of this refrigerant is expected to soar in the months and years that lie ahead. In fact, Freon recharge services have significantly risen in price already. If demand for this refrigerant remains high, homeowners can expect recharge services to become increasingly expensive as national supplies are depleted.
Having an R22 Air Conditioner Professionally Repaired and Maintained
As R22 and the air conditioners that use it rapidly become a thing of the past, not all HVAC technicians will know how to work on air conditioners that use Freon. In fact, as time goes on, training in this industry is becoming increasingly focused on the installation, repair, and ongoing maintenance of R401A air conditioners.
At present, it is still fairly easy to find qualified professionals who can handle these jobs, but this isn’t guaranteed to remain the case in the future. Working with R22 air conditioners will eventually become a specialized skill. Once this happens, homeowners will likely pay more for both materials and labor when scheduling services.
How R401A Stacks up to R22
R401A is a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC). Unlike Freon, Puron does not deplete the earth’s ozone layer. It has a vastly different chemical composition and is recognized as a far more sustainable choice in residential AC refrigerants overall.
Puron is also more efficient than Freon. It’s capable of absorbing and releasing far more heat than R22. This helps limit stress on AC compressors and reduces the likelihood of overheating and burnout. For this and other reasons, the compressors in R401A air conditioners will likely last longer than the compressors in older, Freon-reliant AC models.
Puron allows for smoother compressor performance as well. While R22 AC models use mineral oil as their compressor lubricant, R401 ACs use a high-quality synthetic oil. Along with the superior heat absorption and release capabilities of Puron, this lubricant optimizes all compressor functions.
Using R401A in R22 Air Conditioners
R401A air conditioners are built specifically for this new and more eco-friendly refrigerant. This is because Puron operates at a much higher level of pressure than Freon does. Putting Puron directly into your R22A air conditioner would damage your cooling equipment. The extra pressure that this refrigerant applies could cause the AC compressor and many other components to instantly rupture and fail.
While it is possible to modify Freon-reliant air conditioners to work with Puron, doing so will:
- Void your AC manufacturer’s warranty
- Void your HVAC protections under your home warranty agreements
- Require the replacement of all major system components
- Cost as much or more than the cost of replacing your entire air conditioner
More importantly, retrofitting R22 air conditioners to use Puron is an imprecise and unregulated practice. These often expensive projects aren’t guaranteed to work and they certainly aren’t guaranteed to work safely.
The Best Reasons to Consider Upgrading Your R22 Air Conditioner Right Now
Choosing to switch out your R22 air conditioner now is one of the best things that you can do to protect the environment. Although R401A does produce some greenhouse gases, it does not deplete the ozone layer and its contributions to climate change are far lower than those of R22. Moreover, given that most R22 air conditioners still in use today are at least 10 years old, this is also an opportunity to upgrade to a more modern and efficient home cooling system.
As Freon supplies within the nation decrease and as the HVAC industry moves further and further away from regular R22 use, having your air conditioner both serviced and recharged is guaranteed to be easier and cheaper after you’ve transitioned. However, it is important to note that many R22 air conditioners may never require recharge services throughout their lifespans. If you have a well-maintained AC that still uses Freon and if your air conditioner provides both reliable and efficient performance, you may be able to put this upgrade off until the time for replacement services arrives on its own. Keep in mind that even a small-sized and ill-timed refrigerant leak could put you in a precarious position.
The Evolution of Residential AC Refrigerants Is Ongoing
Despite being both better for the environment and far superior to Freon in overall performance, R401A is still not considered the industry ideal. The carbon footprint of this AC refrigerant has inspired researchers to continue looking for increasingly environmentally friendly options. Over time, Puron will likely be replaced by simple, single-ingredient refrigerants that neither deplete the ozone layer nor contribute to global warming.
At the present moment, R401A appears poised to remain the industry standard for quite some time. In fact, all current R401A air conditioner models will likely be at the very end of their lifespans by the time that the widespread use of any R401A alternative is officially adopted.
At AJ Danboise Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Electrical, we proudly provide HVAC, electrical, and plumbing services to residents of Farmington Hills, Michigan, and the surrounding areas. If you have yet to make the upgrade to an R401A air conditioner, we’ve got you covered. Call us now to request a quote or to schedule an appointment.