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Replacing your AC R22 Refrigerants: The Hows and Whys

Air Conditioners have become one of the basic home appliances in current days within a very short period of time. This technology has raised our standard of living in such a manner that, you would be surprised if you notice any office or household without an air conditioning system. According to a report published by the International Energy Agency, there are around 1.6 billion air conditioners in the world, and by midcentury, this number is expected to reach 5.6 billion!

Did you know that air conditioners use CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) & HCFCs (halogenated chlorofluorocarbons) gases in order to cool our houses and offices? These gases are detrimental to our environment. To combat these issue, The US and some other nations are now concerned about this factor and taking actions to gradually reduce these harmful gas releases. Keeping this goal in mind, the EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) has revised Section 608 Refrigerant Management Regulations, which came into effect from January 1, 2018.

As you can see, this requires an in-depth technical and legal knowledge to understand. But don’t worry, we have worked on it to deliver everything you need to know and act on, in real simple terms.

What is Refrigerant?

Refrigerant is a chemical compound found in both liquid and gaseous state. It has the capability of absorbing heat swiftly from the atmosphere. Refrigerant, also known as Freon (a brand name of refrigerant in the market), is used in refrigerator and air conditioner to cool down the temperature with the help of compressor and evaporator unit. There are many types of refrigerants classified according to their chemical properties. The most common of them is freon refrigerant r22, which are phasing out by the requirements of the law.

The Role of Refrigerant in AC

Refrigerant is literally the blood of an air conditioning system. As blood carries oxygen to our body organs, refrigerant in air conditioner carries the heat between the evaporative unit and the condenser unit. The refrigerant is contained in a copper coil inside the refrigerant. In its low-pressure liquid form, it absorbs the heat from the room through the evaporator coil, as the evaporator draws the room-air. After absorbing the heat, the refrigerant is sent to the condenser unit. A compressor then turns it into a high-pressure gaseous form and heat it furthermore. In that stage, a fan is blown through it, to dissipate the heat to the outer air. After the dissipation of heat, the refrigerant is again turned into its liquid form to send it to the evaporative unit. Thus the cycle continues.

Types of Refrigerant

Considering the chemical properties, there are three types of refrigerants that are used in air conditioners. They are as follows:

  1. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): CFCs refrigerants were used primarily in the early days of air conditioning technology. These gasses are the main culprit of gradual depletion of the Ozone Layer as they were widely used in commercial refrigeration process earlier. Some examples of these type of refrigerants are R11, R12, R113, R114, R115. Their production and usage were banned in 1995 by implementing r12 refrigerant replacement.
  2. Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs): HCFCs or Hydrochlorofluorocarbons or halogenated chlorofluorocarbons are less detrimental to the ozone layer than CFCs. However, they are still harmful to the environment. R22 and R123 are the most commonly used Hydrochlorofluorocarbons for commercial refrigeration purposes today. Under the Clean Air Act, 2010, r123 & r22 freon replacement are mandated, and they are planned to be phased out completely in 2020.
  3. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs): Hydrofluorocarbons are the safest refrigerant available today with no health risks. It is safer for our environment since it has no chlorine. Some examples of these types of HFCs refrigerants are R134a, R404a, R407C, R410a.

Why R22 Refrigerant Replacement?

The Ozone layer is the most important part of our earth’s stratosphere, responsible for absorbing the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. this layer contains the highest concentration of ozone gas (O3) in the earth’s stratosphere. But with the increase of manmade organohalogen gases, the ozone layer started to deplete rapidly. The main culprits among all the organohalogen gases are the Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) gases. R22 is the most widely used hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) gas today/ although r22 is safer than r12, it also has a negative impact on the ozone layer. That is why the EPA is determined to implement the r22 refrigerant replacement with HFCs gases like r134a or r410a according to the “Montreal Protocol”. The r22 freon replacement with r410a or r134a would not eliminate the ozone risk completely, but it would be a step forward to the right direction. As a responsible inhabitant of the earth, It is our duty to comply with this law to make our earth safer for our future generations.

Safer Alternatives to R22

If your air conditioner was installed before 2010, most probably it uses the R22 refrigerant. However, you can be sure by checking the nameplate of your air conditioner. If that’s the case, then there are few options available for you. R134a, R404a, R407C, R410a all are safer alternatives to r22. However, r410a and r134a are the most effective alternative refrigerant for air conditioners, considering sustainability and price. Remember, if your air conditioner is working fine then you don’t need to replace it. However, if your AC requires servicing, then the available options are:

You can still use R22 refrigerants in your air conditioner since a limited use of r22 is allowed in case of servicing the existing air conditioning units. But the price of R22 refrigerants are rising and will continue to rise as it will be hard to find due to the effect of the new regulatory change. Currently, one pound of r22 refrigerant price range is between $35 – $80. With installation cost, the price will vary in between $140 – $180 per pound.

If you are seeking a short-term solution then using a drop-in refrigerant in air conditioner would be the perfect solution. There are many kinds of drop-in refrigerants available on the market for r22. R44 is the direct drop-in replacement for r22. But the problem with r44 and other drop-in refrigerants is that they are less effective and only usable for a temporary time period.

You should consider installing a new air conditioning system in your house or office if your ac is already older than 10 years. It will save your future cost on servicing the existing ACs. If you can afford then you should change your old air conditioner right away for the sake of our environmental integrity.

R22 vs R410a: Which Cools Better?

R410a, R134a, and R407C is the perfect r22 refrigerant substitute. Considering the price and loss in relative capacity, r410a is the best solution available on the market. If we compare r22 refrigerant vs r410a refrigerant for air conditioners, r410a provides better air quality and has better reliability. Moreover, this conversion to r410a to r22 refrigerant gas is easier and effective than other refrigerant conversions. You can ensure it by checking the r12 to r134a conversion chart from your local EPA certified technician.

Safety & Legal Compliance Issues Under the Newly Revised Regulation

The r22 refrigerant replacement with HFCs doesn’t mean that HFCs are 100% safe. With the new regulatory changes, the EPA would be able to establish a new control mechanism for gradual improvement of the current environmental situation. The gist of the newly revised regulation is as follows:

Under the new revised Section 608 Refrigerant Management Regulations, you can’t dispose of refrigerant anywhere you like. You must dispose of them in an authorized area and a documented record must be kept in case of refrigerant disposal. The record must have the name of the company, amount of refrigerants, air conditioner types and all other details.

Under the newly revised regulation, only EPA refrigerant licensed personnel can handle HFC refrigerants and other exempted commercial refrigeration substitutes. All the certified EPA 608 technicians must carry a copy of their certificate at their business place.

The sale of HFC and other exempted substitutes is also restricted to only EPA certified technicians. Anybody other than a certified technician would be legally responsible if they sell any sort of exempted or unexempted refrigerants.

All certified technicians are required to keep the records of sale, evacuation or any disposal of refrigerants under the new regulation.

According to the new regulatory changes, it is forbidden to mix any non-exempted refrigerants with exempted refrigerants. In case of servicing or refilling, any non-exempted refrigerants must be evacuated fully by a certified technician.

In case of disposing of any home appliance that had at least 5 pounds of refrigerant, the unit must be evacuated by an EPA certified technician before the disposal.

The newly revised regulation created many obligations for the producers, users, and technicians. All of these are for ensuring our environmental integrity. With the right tool and knowledge, you can conform to these new changes without any extra hassle. So, let’s help our government and be a responsible citizen of the mother earth.

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