Freon is a hydro-chlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), commonly known as R-22 or HCFC-22. For many years Freon has been the refrigerant/coolant of choice for almost all air conditioning systems.
Before Freon existed, refrigerants like ammonia were used in air condition systems. They were however not ideal due to their toxic nature.
A research team by General Motors improved the synthesis of HCFCs and later concluded that the chemicals were stable, non-toxic and had great refrigeration properties.
In 1930, General Motors and DuPont formed Kinetic Chemicals which started commercial production of Freon. 8 years later, 8 million air conditioning systems running on Freon had been sold in the United States.
If Freon was that good of a refrigerant coupled with its non-toxic nature, why was it banned then?
The reason Freon was banned is because it was discovered that it great contributed to ozone layer depletion and hence global warming. According to the United National Environmental Program, Freon is almost 2000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming potential.
The US ratified the Montreal Protocol in 1988 and in 2010 the sale of Freon-run air conditioning units was stopped. In January of 2020, the production and importation of Freon also stopped. Stockpiles and recycled Freon is however still available to service old units.
If you have an air conditioning unit that still uses Freon, you are not breaking any law. An HVAC technician can still service the air conditioner using recycled Freon (quite expensive) or you can replace it with a modern unit that uses R-410A. Retrofitting the old AC is another option.
If your air conditioner was made in or after 2010, it most definitely does not use Freon as a refrigerant. If you aren’t sure, check the label/plate on the condenser coil outside your house. The refrigerant type will be printed on it.
R-410A is the refrigerant that replaced Freon in after the ban. Unlike R-22, R-410A does not contribute to global warming, it absorbs and releases heat more efficiently and is cheaper.
Can You Still Get Freon For Air Conditioner?
Yes. After the ban on the importation and production of Freon in 2020, there are still Freon stocks for homeowners to purchase, though supply will decrease with time. Recycled Freon will also be available though at a high cost as well.
As is the nature with most businesses, supply of a commodity is inversely proportional to demand. This means that as the supply of Freon decreases, the demand will increase (unless everyone buys the new air conditioning systems).
An increase in the demand of unavailable Freon means high prices of the same.
Although, the ban on the production of Freon is in full effect, you can still find Freon in the market from old stock. HVAC technician will also continue servicing air conditioners with recycled Freon until none is left.
How Do I Tell if My Air Conditioner Uses Freon?
The United States Environmental Protection Agency amended the Clean Air Act in 1990 which has contributed to the end of production and important of Freon in all the 50 states.
As from 2010, new air conditioners made did not use R-22 as a refrigerant. However, there were still old air conditioners in stores many years later (sold new) which were made to use Freon.
So, how can you tell if you air conditioner uses Freon or the new and better R-410A? Well, there are 3 ways to do that:
- If you still have your air conditioner’s manual, the type of refrigerant used will clearly be indicated on it.
- If you are sure that your air conditioner was made in or after 2010, then you are in the clear. New AC units use the new good stuff.
- Check the AC’s label/nameplate. The refrigerant type will be clearly printed on it. If you have a central AC unit, the plate will be on the outside condenser unit. For portable and window AC units check the rear of the unit.
What to do if you Have Freon in Your Air conditioner
If your air conditioner uses Freon as a refrigerant, there is no need to panic. First, using Freon is not illegal. It is just that the government does not want more units to use it due to its effects on the environment.
Secondly, if your air conditioner is running just fine, there is no immediate course of action needed from your side. An air conditioning system is a close-looped system.
That means that Freon moves from the compressor to the condenser coil to the evaporator coil and back to the compressor without any loses. It only changes from gas to liquid and back to its gas state.
What that means is that unless your air conditioning system is leaking, you don’t need to recharge it with Freon.
Tip: In most cases when many people’s air conditioners stop working or aren’t working well, they are quick to conclude that they need a Freon recharge. From experience, that is hardly the problem.
All this is to stay that if you have an old Freon-dependent AC, you should only be concerned when an HVAC technician finds out that you have a leakage.
So, what should you do if you old Freon-dependent air conditioner is out of Freon? Well, there are 3 solutions:
1. Recharge it with Freon (R-22)
Although this is not a long-term solution, it is a viable one for the next few years. Production and importation of Freon was stopped in 2020.
That means there are available stockpiles of this refrigerant although it is quite expensive due to the demand compared with dwindling supply. If you are not ready to install a new air conditioning system, an HVAC technician will recharge your AC system with the Freon after fixing the leak.
That should serve you for a long term until your unit suffers another leak or when you are ready to replace your AC system.
Apart from Freon from stockpiles, recycled Freon is another option. Recycled Freon is also expensive but it will help until you are ready to install a new AC unit.
2. Replace the Old AC with a New One
Sometimes replacing your old air conditioner with a new one is the best option. But how do you know if replacing is better that servicing?
To start with, if your air conditioning system is in a fairly good condition save for the leak, an HVAC technician can fix the leak, recharge the AC with Freon and you will possibly get good service from the system for another couple of years.
In that case, servicing the AC is clearly a better option that replacing. You may need the input of an HVAC technician to help you make an informed choice.
On the other hand, if your air conditioning has seen better days, it is not nearly effective as you would need it to be and fails often, you are better off installing a modern air conditioner that uses R-410A.
3. Retrofit the Old AC
In case you have been wondering or asking yourself, you cannot simply recharge or top-up your old air conditioner that uses R-22 with R-410A. Both of these refrigerants have different properties and therefore their systems are not compatible.
It is like vehicles/engines. Engines are made to only use a specific type of fuel and if you use the wrong type of fuel you will most likely need to swap out the engine as it will be damaged.
Retrofitting the AC system can however be a solution though not a popular one. The idea here is to change the cooling system so that it uses the new R-410A instead of the banned R-22.
Retrofitting in this case is the process of modifying your air conditioning system so that it is compatible with R-410A. It involves removing all the Freon from the system, changing the lubricating oil and replacing other components like seals and gaskets.
Retrofitting isn’t necessarily cheap. Most homeowners have actually found out that the cost between installing a new AC system and retrofitting an old one is quite low.
You also have to hope that the process will be done right. This is the main reason why I do not recommend this option.
Ultimately, replacing the old Freon-dependent air conditioning system with a modern one that uses R410A is the best and long-term solution.
And basically that is what you need to know about the Freon ban especially if you have an old air conditioner. I hope you found this guide helpful