Replacing your AC R22 Refrigerants: The Hows and Whys

All air conditioners require an adequate supply of refrigerants to power up. A refrigerant is any substance that undergoes transitions from liquid to gas and vice versa within the AC unit, which gives the cooling effects you get from your air conditioner. Often ACs can have refrigerant leaks. These leaks can occur for various reasons, which include improper maintenance and wear and tear accumulating over time. It can only be fixed by HVAC professionals. But why is the leak such a huge concern? Not only does it ruin your AC’s performance, but it also has detrimental effects on our environment.

As of 2010, use of the R22 refrigerant has been banned and its use will be completely phased out before 2020. After 2010, any use or production of R22 will be illegal and may lead to fines or other forms of federal punishment. Thus, R22 refrigerant replacement is crucial. If your AC is running on R22, it’s time to replace it. But first, you should have a background check on R22 and what it really is.

R22 Refrigerant Replacement: A Better Option

R22 is an HCFC produced from chloroform. It’s also known as Freon and it was a replacement of the CFCs, which were thought to deplete ozone concentration in the atmosphere. However, recent studies have proven that although the ozone depletion potential of R22 is lower than that of CFCs, it’s still not good enough. Also, the developing countries are increasingly using R22 refrigerants, thus ozone depletion rate hasn’t really changed overall.

An additional concern is that R22 is a potent greenhouse gas and can contribute to global warming. As a result, developed countries have taken the initiative to phase out R22 and use much safer alternatives that affect the ozone layer very slightly. R22 refrigerant replacement is an option only for those who have an R22 compatible AC.

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The Safer Alternatives

There are other safer options to R22 e.g. ammonia, propane, pentafluoroethane, R409A, R507A and R410A. The most commonly used is R134A. Newer AC models often use this refrigerant. Although it has ozone depletion potential, it’s much lower than R22. Often times, a refrigerant leak may be impossible to fix, or not worth it if the AC is too old. You can’t replace the R22 in your existing AC model because R134A wouldn’t work on that. Similarly, R22 wouldn’t work on newer models. Thus R22 Freon replacement isn’t a viable option, but switching to a newer AC model is.

R410A is a combination of various gases. Cylinders containing R410A are usually pink in color. These are also good refrigerants for air conditioners like R134A. You’ll often hear its brand name as Puron. It doesn’t contribute to ozone depletion and has been in use since 2015.

R410A is more reliable and efficient. It can release and absorb more heat compared to R22, so the AC compressor can continue running cooler. As a result, compressor overheating is prevented. Since R410A requires higher pressure, new compressors are more sturdy and well developed to withstand these pressures. These compressors also have lower wear and tear due to the use of synthetic oil, which is used to dissolve R410A. Synthetic oil acts as an excellent alternative. This means you won’t need to call HVAC professionals frequently to fix your AC compressor, and your AC will last longer as well. Thus, R410A reduces both energy consumption and costs in the long run.

How to Detect Refrigerant Leak?

Usually, in cases of older models of air conditioners, refrigerant may leak anytime. Refrigerants are odorless and colorless, hence detecting the leak occurring in your air conditioner may be difficult. After detecting a leak, be sure to contact an HVAC professional. They can tell you whether you need to recharge your AC with new refrigerant supply or replace the AC altogether. Here are three ways you can detect a leak.

  1. Soap Test: This is the simplest way of detecting a refrigerant leak, but bear in mind you can only do this with a gauge pressure system that has higher pressure than the ambient pressure. It will work on any refrigerant. Turn on the AC system in the cooling mode and create a soap solution containing water and dishwashing liquid. Use a spray to spray the soap solution here and there in the room. Make sure the test area is away from wind and also ensure that it’s free of dust. Spread the solution properly using a leather cloth and check for any bubble formation. The presence of bubbles indicates a refrigerant leak. You could test different areas to confirm the result. Wipe the area dry after testing.
  2. UV Light Method: This method can be used to detect a refrigerant leak by detecting lubricant oil leaks. Since the refrigerant is dissolved in the oil, an oil leak automatically confirms the refrigerant leak. The oil contains a UV component which can be detected. This component can be detected using UV light. Shade the testing area and focus the UV light onto that area and see if there is any fluorescence. This method is quite sensitive and can detect the smallest leaks. If you can manually feel the presence of oil, you could infer that refrigerant is leaking as well.
  3. Electronic Leak Detector: It’s the most widely used and accurate method, which detects the presence of halogens such as chlorine and fluorine. The refrigerant amount leaking is always proportional to the amount of halogen detected, which is converted into an electrical signal. The signal is amplified to produce a louder sound. Switch the cooling unit and cover the area from wind, then use the detector probe on the test area and wait for any visual or audible signal. Electronic leak detectors usually cost around 50 USD.
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Safety Concerns

When you are trying to detect a refrigerant leak, be extremely careful. When you are testing for the leak do wear gloves because otherwise your bare hands won’t be able to avoid frostbite. Make sure the area is free from wind and well ventilated. If you sense a pungent smell from your AC unit, you as well as your family members should stay away and evacuate the place as soon as possible. Immediately call an HVAC professional when the smell spreads around.

Refrigerants have been in use ever since the arrival of air conditioners and refrigerators. The need and demand for them has skyrocketed, but unfortunately, it caused a lot of damage to the environment. Its release into the atmosphere depleted the ozone concentration. The ozone layer protects every living organism on the planet from harmful UV radiation from the sun, and if nothing is done about the depletion, we could be in danger.

Governments from all over the world banned the use of CFCs as refrigerant for air conditioners and soon there was a shift to using HCFCs. However, HCFCs such as R22 are no good anymore either. There are now safer alternatives, which not only consumes less energy but also reduces costs. First you should test whether you have the R22 refrigerant in your air conditioner or not. You can detect that when you suspect a possible refrigerant leak. Various self-testing methods are available now, but it’s best if you call in an HVAC professional to help you with this. You should change your AC unit as soon as possible if it contains R22.

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