Refrigerants and Your AC Unit – Another Phase-Out On the Way

What to know about HVAC refrigerants and your AC Unit

The recent phase-out of R-22 (also known by its popular brand name: Freon®) that occurred January 1, 2020 was years in the making. While we still service HVAC equipment using Freon, most residential HVAC units are now using Puron® or R-410A, a type of hydrocarbon refrigerant without the chlorine. The reason for the switch was to reduce the impact that the gasses have on the ozone layer and the environment.

As technology evolves and the desire to curb pollutants increases, another phase-out that most consumers may not be aware of is in progress. Consumers might wonder how this new phase-out might affect their HVAC system.

HVAC refrigerants operate in a closed system

The use of any of refrigerant in a residential AC unit or heat pump by itself is a clean process. Refrigerant is designed to absorb heat from the ambient air and move it away in a closed system.

In many cases, that refrigerant is used for years, decades in some case. The problem comes in when the HVAC system breaks down or there is a leak and refrigerant gas escapes.

HVAC technicians already reclaim refrigerant whenever they can so it can be recycled or properly destroyed. It is not legal in most cases to dispose of HVAC systems without properly recovering the refrigerant.

What legislation is driving the HFC phase down?

National and state governments are establishing hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) reduction mandates. The phase down has been in the works for years at many different levels. Globally, you’ll hear HVAC-R industry experts talk about the The Montreal Protocol and the Kigali Amendment.

The federal government authorized a 15-year phase down of HFCs, which include refrigerants used in residential HVAC units. Signed into law December 27, 2021, the bipartisan American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM) was designed to reduce the production and use of HFCs.

At the state level since 2018, California and a number of states began mandating limits on the use of HFCs to reach clean air and climate goals. New refrigerant rules were passed by the California Air Resources Board on December 10, 2020 to limit the purchase or use of new high-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerant. Compliance in California will begin for most home air conditioning systems in 2025.

Residential HVAC manufacturers are going to get ahead of the legislation and begin the phase-out of high-GWP refrigerant. This will mean that new HVAC units that can use the new refrigerant will be coming soon.

Manufacturers stay ahead of climate-saving trend

It might surprise you to learn that Carrier announced that starting in 2023, all of their residential HVAC systems in North America will move to a new refrigerant Puron Advance™ (R-454b). This refrigerant blend has fraction of the Global Warming Potential (GWP) that R-22 or Freon® did.

Daikin another manufacturer of HVAC equipment has championed R-32 refrigerant as another low-GWP alternative, which is currently in use today.  Yet even they have reported phasing out R-32 in 2023 for an alternative with even lower GWP scores.

Still other refrigerant alternatives that can meet the new environmental standards are under development such as R-466a by Honeywell, the first nonflammable, low-GWP option.

What are the pros of the new refrigerants and your AC unit?

The main pro of the new refrigerants is that they are considered friendlier to the environment. Some think that they can make air conditioners more efficient, reducing electricity use which can save money.

As we have been doing for years, the refrigerants we use in your HVAC system will continue to be handled with care. If we find leaks, we will need to resolve those quickly as we do now. We will also continue reclaiming refrigerants and recycling whenever we can. These policies are also friendly to the environment and make good business sense.

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Sources: ASHRAE Refrigerant Designations; ASHRAE confirms R466A as non-flammable A1 refrigerant; EPA

What are the cons of the new refrigerants and your AC unit?

From a service perspective, there are a number of challenges to working with the newer, more environmentally-friendly refrigerants.

Mildly flammable refrigerants

Probably the most worrisome issue is that many of the new refrigerants are mildly flammable (A2L) and will require much more training and safeguards for HVAC technicians to work with them.

New equipment such as vacuum pumps and extra time for gasses to dissipate safely could make installation and repair take longer than it might otherwise take. Welding pipes, a standard skill that technicians do every day, will be much trickier.

It’s going to require more than ever that homeowners use a HVAC technician that is meticulous about training and keeping the latest safety tools and procedures to minimize the risks. It’s true that some of these refrigerants are already in use, but we see enough botched jobs to legitimately worry about this because of safety concerns – for technicians and for homeowners.

These refrigerants will require building code changes. And, fire safety testing is already underway for firefighters for example.

Refrigerant blends require special care

Many of the new refrigerants are blends of more than one substance. This means that recharging a system will be more complicated. We may not be able to easily top-off your system if we are fixing a minor leak. Instead, we’ll need to remove all the refrigerant and put in new, so the right ratio is maintained.

These refrigerants will also require new equipment to work properly. We won’t be able to drop in and replace the refrigerants with your existing HVAC system. This was the case when R-22 was phased out so we have seen this scenario before.

Stay in the know about refrigerants and your AC unit

We like to keep our customers informed about what is going on in the HVAC industry because it may affect decisions they make on repairing or replacing an HVAC system now or in the future. Contact us today to get a quote on a new AC and heater, heat pump, or mini split system. Find out what makes us different from other HVAC dealers in Richmond, Texas and surrounding area.