Understanding the Important Differences Between R22 and R401a Refrigerant

AC Refrigerant in Charlotte, NC

Most air conditioners are rated to last between 15 and 20 years. If you don’t use it heavily and you’ve been keeping it well-maintained, you may have an air conditioner in your Charlotte, North Carolina home that’s nearly two decades old. Despite being inefficient and regardless of the fact that they diminish indoor air quality, some old air conditioners continue turning on and functioning well beyond the ends of their expected lifespans. Although replacing these units might seem expensive, continuing to use them can prove infinitely more so. This is especially true if your old air conditioner is still running on R22 refrigerant. Following is everything that you need to know about R22 and its far preferable alternative: R401a.

What Is R-22 Refrigerant?

Also known as Freon (its Dupont brand name), HCFC-22 Freon, and R22 Freon, R22 is an AC refrigerant that was once widely used in residential air conditioners and many commercial cooling systems. Whether you were enjoying the benefits of home cooling or relaxing in a chilly motel room, R-22 was likely responsible for the moderate indoor temperatures you enjoyed. Driving the cooling cycle in air conditioners, Freon absorbs heat from indoor spaces and then releases it outdoors. If you have an air conditioner that was manufactured before 2010, there’s a high likelihood your current AC system still uses R22.

The name HCFC-22 Freon refers directly to the type of chemical that Freon is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon. Although hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) have a lesser impact on the natural environment than chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Freon and other HCFCs like it are still believed to be responsible for the ultra-rapid depletion of the earth’s ozone layer. When considering just how much Freon was being used throughout the nation, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlawed the production and importation of new R-22. They also made it unlawful for air conditioner manufacturers to continue producing new units after 2010 that relied on this refrigerant. The Freon ban was finalized in 2020 after a 10-year period of phasing out Freon products out so that property owners had ample time to prepare for AC upgrades.

The Cost of R22

The implementation of the EPA ban on R22 had one very rapid and significant impact on consumers. This was the sudden increase in the cost of Freon. With no new R22 being produced in the country and absolutely none being imported, homeowners with air conditioners that relied on this refrigerant were forced to pay astronomical prices each time their ACs needed to be recharged.

If you have an older air conditioner that hasn’t needed to have its refrigerant recharged in the recent past, these are all issues that still apply to you. The costs of servicing R22 air conditioners have gone up significantly since 2020. Worse still, they are guaranteed to continue doing so into the foreseeable future.

What Is R401a?

R401a is a relatively new alternative to Freon. This refrigerant is a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) that has a far lesser impact on the natural environment and the ozone layer. Also known as Puron, R401a is approved for use in all new residential cooling systems. In 2015, R401a became the standard refrigerant in residential cooling systems throughout the United States.

Is Puron Better Than Freon?

Puron isn’t just better for the environment than R22. It may actually be better for your cooling system as well. Introduced and trademarked by Carrier Corporation in 1996, Puron is believed to be better at absorbing heat and releasing it. In residential cooling systems, this allows AC compressors to operate at colder temperatures overall. When compared to the performance of R22, Puron contributes to longer-lasting AC compressors, fewer compressor burnouts, and fewer system repairs. Thus, savings aren’t the only thing that you’ll gain when making the switch from R22 to R401a.

There’s also the matter of compressor lubricant. With R22, air conditioners required oil to keep their compressors lubricated. R22 air conditioners used mineral oil for this purpose which had to be inspected and replaced during each annual service visit. In comparison, R401a air conditioners use synthetic oil to keep their compressors lubricated. This oil allows for both smoother and more efficient compressor operation, and it also limits overall wear.

Can I Just Use Puron in My Current Air Conditioner?

If your air conditioner has been humming along just fine and doesn’t appear to have any problems with uneven cooling, inefficiency, or low refrigerant, you may feel as though your hand is being forced. After all, upgrading your home cooling equipment is a big ticket purchase, and one that most consumers don’t make until they absolutely have to.

It might seem like the most cost-effective solution is to start using R401a in your current air conditioner as R22 prices continue to rise, and as Freon gradually becomes all but inaccessible. However, although this is indeed a possibility, it isn’t a matter of simply switching refrigerants out. While R22 and R401a are similar in their application, their chemical compositions are completely different.

R401a operates at significantly higher pressure levels than R22 does. Putting R401a into a freon-using air conditioner without first making the right modifications can result in ruptured components caused by excessive force. The only safe way to make this switch is by first having your current unit converted. This entails replacing:

  • All tubing
  • The evaporator
  • The condenser
  • The compressor

The costs of making these changes would likely equal or exceed the costs of replacing your air conditioner outright. More importantly, the only way to ensure that all parts of your air conditioner are working safely and seamlessly together is by sidestepping projects like these and installing a new and unmodified model that’s using the very same refrigerant it was designed and built for.

What the R-22 Ban Means for Your Home Cooling System

With Freon costs rising in direct relation to the ever-dwindling supply of this refrigerant, upgrading to a newer and more modern air conditioner that uses Puron is increasingly becoming the most cost-effective choice. When your current home cooling system needs a refrigerant recharge, you’ll have to consider more than just the significant cost of R-22. For instance, most residential air conditioners that have already passed their 10-year mark have also lost half of their efficiency. Thus, your AC system is probably already costing you a veritable fortune in other ways.

Upgrading to a new air conditioner that uses R410a will also you the benefit of advanced features and cutting-edge technologies. The latest air conditioning systems are designed for greater convenience and greater ease of use. They also allow homeowners to minimize their carbon footprints and cut their home energy bills without having to make major changes in how they regulate indoor temperatures. You can continue enjoying the same cool, comfortable environment that you’ve always known while pocketing remarkable savings. Many new air conditioner models additionally offer better indoor humidity control and better air filtration.

It’s also important to note that if you ever choose to sell your home, prospective buyers will find a brand new air conditioner far more appealing than they will one with refrigerant that’s been completely banned in the United States. As such, upgrading an R22 air conditioner can also add value and marketability to your home.

When you have questions about your air conditioner, Integrity Heating & Cooling has answers. We’ve been providing reliable heating and cooling services to residents of the greater Charlotte, North Carolina area for more than 35 years. We also offer standby generators, ductless mini-splits, and indoor air quality services. To find out about upgrading your home cooling system, give us a call today!