Most air conditioners that I see these days use R-410A refrigerant, but some older AC’s still use the old R-22 refrigerant (normally called Freon, but that’s just one brand name).  And R-22 is a problem.  It’s a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) and it contains chlorine.

Several decades ago we realized that chlorine gas was causing damage to earth’s ozone layer.  And R-22, by far the most common refrigerant used in residential air conditioning systems, contains chlorine.  So back in 1987 the international community came up with the Montreal Protocol and agreed to phase out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances.  In fact the Montreal Protocol was the first United Nations treaty that achieved universal ratification; every country voted in favor.  R-22 had to go.

Eventually air conditioner manufacturers came up with R-410A refrigerant, a hydrofluorocarbon compound (HFC), and the transition began.  R-410A is often called Puron, but again that’s just one brand name for the same chemical compound.

Beginning in 2010 the production and importation of R-22 was limited, and starting on January 1, 2020 it has been be prohibited.  Because of these limitations the cost of R-22 has already gone up tremendously, and it’s only going to go higher.  The only source of R-22 will be refrigerant that’s removed from old air conditioners that are being discarded.

Because of their differences R-22 and R-410A aren’t interchangeable.  You can’t just add R-410A to an old air conditioner.  In fact there’s really no substitute at all for the refrigerant in an old R-22 system.  So if you have an air conditioner that uses R-22, and you have a leak or a problem and need more refrigerant, you might be in for a big shock.  The refrigerant might be crazy expensive, or you might just not be able to find any at all.  Then you’re stuck.  And you’re not supposed to just add R-22 to a leaking AC system — you’re supposed to find and fix the leak.  That can be very hard.

In this case your only real option is to replace your air conditioner.  This would entail replacing the outside condenser, the inside evaporator coil (that’s generally in the plenum just above the furnace), and you’ll even need to replace the refrigerant lines that run between the condenser and the coil.

That’s a lot of work and a lot of expense.  But that’s what it takes to save our ozone layer.

So how can you tell what refrigerant you have?  Look on your air conditioner’s data tag outside.  It should say somewhere what refrigerant it uses.  If it says 410A like in the picture above then you’re in good shape.  Otherwise you might be due for a total replacement the next time you have an AC problem.

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