5 Things You Need to Know About Air Conditioning Refrigerants

Many people who own air conditioners don’t know much about the part of the system responsible for the refreshing, cold air blowing from their vents–the refrigerants. It’s a common misconception that air conditioners blow cold air into homes, vehicles, and offices. The refrigerants are what remove old air from a space so it can be replaced with cooler air; without them, you’d simply be recycling hot air.

Beyond how they work, there’s more to know about refrigerants that directly affects you. Here are five of the most important things about the substance that keeps you cool when it counts.

  1. New Governmental Regulations 

For many decades, a colorless gas called Chlorodifluoromethane (CFCs), commonly called R-22 in the HVAC industry, has been used in central air conditioning systems. In recent years it has been discovered that R-22 has a global warming potential of 1,810, meaning it is 1,810 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This led the United States to join a global effort in 1987 called the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, an internationally ratified treaty intended to boost the health of the atmosphere. Since then, substances that cause environmental distress have been banned like Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) in Europe in 2015. As part of the agreement, the United States has begun to phase out the use of R-22 with the plan to make it totally illegal by 2030. So what does that mean for you?

  1. How Phasing Out R-22 Directly Affects You Now and In the Future

As per the Montreal Protocol, the United States was required to start reducing the consumption of HCFCs such as HCFC-22. By 1 January 2004, a 35 percent reduction had to be met, with the total reduction meeting 99.5 percent by the year 2020. Additionally, as of 2010 new units were no longer allowed to be refilled with R-22. Entering 2020 (less than two years from now), companies won’t be able to produce HCFCs or CFCs including R-22. This means those who have AC units that use R-22 and need to recharge their system or need an air conditioner repair must either purchase a new unit or modify the original so that it can use refrigerants allowed by the Montreal Protocol.

  1. The Four Types of Refrigerants Considered Eco-Friendly 

Currently, there are four types of eco-friendly refrigerants that are capable of filling the position of our old friend R-22. In most cases, old air conditioners will need to be retrofit to apply the new alternatives. It’s also important to note that some of the new alternatives require the use of multiple recovery machines to completely clear out the old refrigerant from a unit.

Here are the four eco-friendly alternatives you can choose from as 2020 approaches.

  • R-134A (also known as Norflurane) is a haloalkane refrigerant with thermodynamic properties. It is comprised of a single component, meaning it is not meant to be blended. Retrofitting involves switching out the unit’s accumulator, completely removing any old compressor oil, and replacing the air conditioner’s high-pressure switch. It may sound easy, but if even a tiny bit of the old refrigerant is left behind, the R-134A will be contaminated which could lead to a total unit failure–the last thing you want in the middle of summer.
  • R-407C is another excellent alternative and has thermodynamic properties that mimic those in R-22. The R-407C product is widely used in new ductless split systems, water chillers, light air conditioning, direct expansion systems, and when packaging new air conditioners.
  • R-404A boasts an Ozone Depletion Potential of zero, making it another great R-22 alternative. R-404A is commonly used in refrigeration systems requiring temperatures between -49° F and 59° F. Due to its lack of rapid reaction to air or water, R-404A is can be used across a variety of applications.
  •  R-410A is a chlorine-free blend of difluoromethane and pentafluoroethane and is more energy efficient than both R-22 and R-407C. It also has an Ozone Depletion Potential of zero.
  1. Regular Air Conditioner Tune-Ups Prevent Refrigerant Leaks

A common question is how often air conditioning systems need to be refilled with refrigerant. In most cases, the answer to this question is never. If the unit is well-maintained and gets a regular air conditioner tune-up, refrigerant leaks are avoidable. Tune-ups make sure your whole unit gets inspected and that any preventive maintenance or repairs are done to keep your unit performing at its best. They can also include pre-season checkups, basic filter cleaning and replacement, and now a swap out of the R-22 with one of the eco-friendly refrigerants listed above.

  1. Replacing the Compressor Is a Good Time to Replace the Refrigerant

If the day ever comes when your air conditioning system fails, rather than choosing an air conditioner replacement it’s more cost effective to swap out the compressor. Even if everything is working fine and you’re just interested in switching to an R-22 eco-friendly alternative, you can save a lot of money by just swapping out the compressor rather than replacing the entire unit.