As a professional home inspector, I've seen the evolution of home cooling systems firsthand. A significant change in this field has been the phase-out of Freon® (R-22), a refrigerant that has cooled our homes for decades. Thanks to the "Clean Air Act of 1990," the use of Freon® is now on the decline. From January 1, 2020, the production and import of Freon® have been banned in the US. This is big news that many homeowners might not be aware of, and it's important to understand what it means for the future.
Originally, refrigerants like ammonia were used in cooling systems, but they posed risks due to their toxic and flammable nature. In 1930, DuPont® introduced Freon®, a safer alternative. However, the environmental concerns led to the development of Puron® (R-410A), a more eco-friendly refrigerant. By 2003, most new air conditioning (A/C) and heat pump systems shifted to Puron®. After 2010, it became the standard, although a few systems still used R-22 but were shipped without the refrigerant.
It's crucial to note that Freon®-based systems cannot simply switch to Puron® due to different engineering requirements; Puron® systems operate at higher pressures.
During home inspections, I always discuss the Freon® and Puron® scenario with my clients. The ban on Freon® production means that for recharging older systems, only recycled Freon® is available. This scarcity is pushing up the cost of Freon®. Most residential A/C and heat pump systems need 3-8 pounds of refrigerant, and as of 2021, Freon® costs between $100 and $200 per pound. It's vital to check your A/C or heat pump unit to see what type of refrigerant it uses. The tag should list either R-22 or HCFC 22 for Freon®, or R-410A for Puron®. And remember, handling Freon® requires a qualified licensed contractor.
Now, let's demystify how refrigerants like Freon® and Puron® work in our cooling systems. They don't create cold air but instead move heat energy. By changing from liquid to gas and back again, these refrigerants absorb and release heat, allowing your air conditioner, heat pump, dehumidifier, or refrigerator to cool. This process is based on the fundamental principles of thermodynamics, where the refrigerant acts as a medium to transfer heat from inside to outside, making our living spaces more comfortable. Understanding this basic mechanism can help homeowners appreciate the complexities of their cooling systems and the importance of proper maintenance.
Most A/C and heat pump systems are designed to last about 15 years. With R-22 equipment now being over a decade old, it's often more economical to invest in a new system rather than repair an older one. Newer systems are not only more efficient, with a higher Season Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), but they also comply with current environmental standards. Even if your Freon®-based system is still working fine, it's wise to start budgeting for a replacement with a Puron®-based system.
To wrap up this discussion, the transition from Freon® to Puron® is more than just a regulatory change; it represents a commitment to a healthier environment and more efficient home cooling technologies. As we adapt to these changes, it's crucial for homeowners to stay informed and proactive. Whether you're maintaining an existing system or planning for an upgrade, understanding the shift in refrigerants will help you make smarter, more sustainable choices for your home. Remember, the future of home cooling is not just about comfort, but also about responsibility and efficiency.
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