Houston Heating, Cooling, and Electrical

What Do The Changes For Freon Mean To Homeowners?

Will air conditioners no longer be allowed to use Freon soon?

In accordance with EPA regulations, Freon will no longer be produced or imported into the U.S. starting in 2020. Freon, also known as HCFC-22, is a refrigerant, so it’s responsible for capturing and moving heat outside the home. It’s an essential part of how air conditioners work.

Although Freon will no longer be produced or purchased by the U.S., homeowners can still operate their air conditioners if they use Freon. However, retrofitting or replacing the air conditioner may be necessary once Freon is no longer readily available.

Why is Freon being phased out?

Freon is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon, or HCFC. Although they aren’t as damaging to the ozone as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, HCFCs are considered harmful to the ozone layer. As part of the Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987 and revised many times since then, the U.S. has agreed to phase out HCFCs in steps. HCFC-22 is one of two HCFCs to be phased out in 2020 as part of the program.

What air conditioners use Freon refrigerant?

Only older air conditioners are still running Freon, as manufacturers have been updating their HVAC models to adjust for regulatory changes. This process has been ongoing for nearly 10 years, so if your air conditioner was installed prior to 2010, then it may still be using Freon.

If you’re not sure whether your system uses Freon or not, check the air conditioner’s nameplate. If your home is fitted with a central air conditioner, the nameplate can normally be found on the condenser outside. It should detail what refrigerant the system uses. If you can’t find the nameplate, the owner’s manual may have the necessary information, or you can call the company responsible for installing or maintaining the system. If none of those options are available, consider contacting a reputable HVAC company to verify what refrigerant your air conditioner uses.

What alternatives to Freon are available to homeowners?

HVAC manufacturers have switched to other refrigerants in anticipation of the Freon phase out and to provide customers with a more environmentally friendly option for their air conditioners. The most common alternative to Freon is R-410A, which does not damage the ozone layer.

However, air conditioners that use R-410A require a different set of components than those that still rely on HCFC-22. That’s because R-410A requires higher operating pressures to work properly, and delivering those higher pressures means updated equipment.

What can homeowners do if their air conditioner uses Freon?

If your air conditioner does use Freon, it’s important to note that no one will force you to stop using it. Homeowners can still operate their air conditioner like normal, but it’s highly recommended that they speak with an HVAC technician on how to move forward. Here are the options an HVAC company may recommend:

Using stockpiled Freon until the system reaches end of life

New Freon won’t be introduced to the market starting in 2020, but there is a large stockpile of Freon available to property owners that cannot make the switch to an R-410A model immediately. HVAC technicians can still service air conditioners using this stockpiled Freon, but this is only a temporary solution for many homeowners.

As Freon becomes harder to find and purchase, its price will go up. Property owners, due to the rising cost of Freon, may be forced to retrofit or replace their air conditioner out of financial necessity.

Retrofit an existing air conditioner to make it R-410A compatible

If your air conditioner’s coils can already work with R-410A refrigerant, you may be able to replace the outside unit and keep your system running. In some cases, switching to R-410A may also improve the unit’s efficiency.

However, this is a difficult job that should only be handled by a technician with retrofitting experience and the appropriate certification. During the retrofit process, several internal components will need to be replaced. Anyone with an older air conditioner will need to weigh the cost of retrofitting versus replacement.

Replace your old air conditioner with a new, R-410A compatible model

If your system is still using Freon, it’s likely 10 years old or older. HVAC manufacturers recommend replacement every 15 years, and new models are much more efficient than decade-old systems, even on the less expensive end. It may make sense to buy new if it’s possible.

If you’re considering replacing an old air conditioner, a reputable HVAC company can help select, install and maintain your new system.

What should homeowners look for in an HVAC installer?

Much of your system’s performance and long-term reliability depends on the installation process. As such, it’s essential that homeowners work with an HVAC company that knows what they are doing. Here’s what to look for:

Licensing through the state board

Proper licensing is critical for HVAC professionals because in many cases, the technician will need to work around gas and electrical lines, as well as plumbing. The education and training that comes with licensing is critical to ensure the technician can safely operate in these conditions.

Everything in writing

A reputable HVAC company will provide a written estimate that includes the price of services and the exact services included in the estimate. A written estimate is legally binding, so it offers peace of mind to homeowners.

Experience with newer HVAC technologies

Experience is essential for an HVAC technician, but it’s perhaps even more important that they have experience with a wide range of new HVAC technologies. If your HVAC company offers many models and efficiency-boosting additions, they can better fit your property’s exact climate control needs.

An onsite inspection before providing an estimate

HVAC systems, especially older systems, differ greatly in their condition and operation. To get a complete picture on the system’s operation, HVAC technicians will need to check the ducting, the condition of your home’s insulation, the kind of windows it has and small details, like the number of registers in each room. These are impossible to guess at over the phone, but have a major impact on the kind of air conditioner your home will need.

Freon will slowly disappear from the market over the next several years, but there’s still time for homeowners to consider all of their HVAC options. An experienced, reputable HVAC contractor can help with this and make the switch to cleaner refrigerant an easy one.

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