Freon® (also known as R-22) is a refrigerant that has been in use for many decades but, since the “Clean Air Act of 1990” became law, the federal government has mandated its gradual demise. As of 1 January 2020, the production and import of Freon® will be completely banned in the US. Most home owners have no idea that this is happening and, therefore, most of them are not prepared for the future potential high costs associated with maintaining older air conditioning and heat pump units.
Prior to Freon, other types of refrigerants (such as ammonia) were engineered for use in refrigerators, however many of these early refrigerants were found to be toxic and flammable. Freon® was invented by DuPont® around 1930. Starting around 2003, most new (but not all) A/C and heat pump systems started using Puron® (R-410A) as their refrigerant instead of Freon®. Puron® complies with federal laws. As of January 2010, the production and import of Freon® (R-22) is now officially in the USA. Equipment that uses Freon® can not be converted to Puron® as these systems are engineered differently (Puron systems run at a much higher pressure) so a simple swap-out of refrigerants is not an option. Many older chest and upright freezers and dehumidifiers also use Freon® (R-22).
When inspecting homes with older (R-22) based equipment installed, I always educate my clients on the Freon® and Puron® scenario in an attempt to prepare them. After Jan. 1st, 2020, if Freon®-based equipment needs to be recharged (such as due to a refrigerant leak), only Freon® recycled from old equipment will be available. This means, Freon® will be in short supply and may easily be $500~$1,000 per pound. Most residential A/C and heat pump systems use between 3~8 pounds of Freon®. If you go outside and look at your A/C or heat pump unit compressor manufacturer's tag, it will include information about the type of refrigerant it uses (either R-22 or R-410A). Sometimes Freon® will be listed as "HCFC 22". Also, Freon® should only be worked with, reclaimed, and properly disposed of by a qualified licensed contractor.
Refrigerants allow the movement of heat energy using a refrigeration cycle which allows the refrigerant to change states from liquid to gas and vice versa. By compressing or decompressing (allowing it to expand) a refrigerant can become hot or cold. This basic principle is how air conditioners, heat pumps, dehumidifiers, and refrigerators/freezers work. They don't create "cold", instead, they move heat.
I advise my clients that Freon® based equipment will still work after January 2020, however if there is an issue with how the equipment functions (such as it no longer properly cooling your home) and the technician determines that the unit needs a recharge (more Freon®), the cost associated with adding Freon® may easily be 1/3 or even half the price of a new A/C or heat pump system. Of course, newer A/C and heat pump systems are much more efficient than older systems due to technology improvements. Even with a perfectly functional Freon® based A/C or heat pump system, starting to budget now for replacement of older Freon® units with new Puron® equipment is wise.
You can read my article about ways of lowering your home's cooling costs (Energy Saving Cooling Tips).
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© 2020 Matthew Steger
Matthew Steger, owner/inspector of WIN Home Inspection, is a Certified Level 1 Infrared Thermographer, an ASHI Certified Inspector (ACI), an electrical engineer, and a US Dept. of Energy Home Energy Score Assessor. He can be reached at: 717-361-9467 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WIN Home Inspection has provided a wide array of home inspection services in the Lancaster, PA area since 2002. This article was authored by Matthew Steger, ACI - owner of WIN Home Inspection in Lancaster, PA. No article, or portion thereof, may be reproduced or copied without prior written consent of Matthew Steger.