Bringing Your Air Conditioning Unit Up-to-Date

Making the Switch from Freon to Puron: Why it Needs to be Replaced 

What is a refrigerant? In the simplest terms, refrigerants are gases that remove heat from surrounding sources through a continuous cycle of being compressed into liquid and then being released back into a gaseous state. As pressure is removed and the liquid returns to gas, the increasingly active molecules whisk away heat from available heat sources, leaving cooler temperatures behind. In a controlled environment, such as a refrigerator or air conditioning unit, the refrigerant is focused on a heat source through the use of coils, removing heat from your food or the air in your home. The most efficient refrigerants are those that take less pressure to compress into liquid and that have the highest heat absorption rate when returning to gas.

In the late 1920's, two General Motors (GM) scientists working for GM's Frigidaire subsidiary developed a chemical substance to replace existing chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants. Previous CFC refrigerants had proven exceedingly hazardous because they were toxic, corrosive, and/or flammable.

The advantage to Freon's cooling process—in addition to being safer than previous refrigerants—was the relative low pressure needed to condense the gas into liquid. This meant that smaller compressor motors were needed, offering greater portability and energy efficiency. Today, in the air conditioning industry, Freon takes on the form of R-22 or HCFC-22 (different monikers for the same substance).

In the 1970's, a link was discovered between CFC's such as Freon and the depletion of the ozone layer. Under the Clean Air Act of 1990, R-22 Freon is being phased out and must be replaced with R-410A or another EPA approved refrigerant. R-410A (also known by the brand name Puron) does not contribute to ozone depletion. As well as being nonflammable, noncorrosive, and neutral to the environment, R-410A is also widely touted as being more energy efficient than its R-22 predecessor. If early statistics prove true, the environment wins on two fronts, as R-410A systems should use less energy than previous systems.

Should You Replace Your Old R-22 System Now?

The greatest cost in repairing existing R-22 systems is in the cost of the R-22 itself. As manufacturing of R-22 slows to convert to R-410A and aging systems increase the demand, prices for R-22 refrigerant are skyrocketing. Over the last few years, from 2010 to 2012, we've seen R-22 prices nearly triple, as government imposed limits on manufacturing have created a perceived shortage in the industry.

The choice to replace an old R-22 air conditioning system is really one of economics. If a system is not malfunctioning, there is no need to replace it now. You may get several more seasons out of your air conditioners before you need to make the switch. However, if you continue to have problems such as slow refrigerant leaks that require adding R-22, they may want to consider an upgrade. Topping off the R-22, while much less expensive than replacing an entire air conditioning system, may become exceedingly expensive as prices continue to rise.

Homeowners can expect to pay anywhere from about $40 to $50 per pound for R-22 Freon if a repair is needed. A slow leak may require 2 to 4 pounds of refrigerant plus the cost of finding and repairing the leak. In other words, what once might have been a relatively inexpensive repair may now cost $350 or more. A complete system replacement could cost $5,000 or more, depending on the size/capacity of the system, but it may not be worth it to continue plugging money into a system if it will fail sooner rather than later. Only you the homeowner can decide.

Source: Old Republic Home Protections