Thanks to the hot and humid summers here in the Triangle of North Carolina, understanding your air conditioning unit is top priority. The primary function of your air conditioner is to remove heat (and a by-product is also removing humidity) from the inside of your home and expel it outside. Your air conditioner transfers the heat using one of two coolants: R-22 or R-410A. Freon is simply the brand name for the R-22 coolants.
How It Works
Freon constantly moves between the two units of your HVAC system, absorbing heat from your intake which creates cool air that blows out through the supply ducts.
Let’s start at the evaporator coil, that’s part of your inside unit (if you have a split system). Freon is a liquid as it enters the evaporator coil. The evaporator coil allows heat to move from the intake ducts into the liquid Freon. This turns it from a liquid into a gas (those chemistry classes coming back yet?).
The gas form of Freon then carries the heat to the outside unit, the condenser. Inside the condenser, there are two major parts: the compressor and the condenser coils (where the outside unit gets its name from). First, the compressor compresses the hot Freon back into liquid form. As a liquid, it will transfer heat more efficiently.
Next, the liquid Freon moves through the condenser coils, which remove the heat. Now it’s ready to go back inside to the evaporator and start all over again.
The Future of Freon (R-22)
Freon is part of a class of refrigerants called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and they’re linked to ozone depletion and are currently being phased out of use. The phase-out is occurring through 2030, when it will be fully replaced by R-410A.
Here is a quick phase-out guide:
- January 2015: newly manufactured air conditioners use R-410A
- January 2021: Manufacturers stopped making Freon. HVAC companies may recover used Freon from old systems and recycle it into current systems that use R-22.
- January 2030: Full shift from Freon to R-410A. HVAC companies may no longer refill air conditioners with R-22. If you need a refill, you will instead need to replace your HVAC system with one that uses R-410A.
Head over to energy.gov for some details on all refrigerants, their environmental impact, and how to save energy and money.
How the Phase-out Affects You
All HVAC specialists are aware Freon’s phase-out and shift to the newer R-410A. If your air conditioner was made after 2015, you’re in the clear, because it uses the new stuff. If your air conditioner was made before 2015, you’ll have to check.
Some units have an info panel on the condenser unit that clearly states which refrigerant it uses. Don’t worry if you can’t find it, just ask your local HVAC technician when they come for your bi-annual inspection. And if you’re not getting your system maintained twice per year (once in the Spring, once in the Fall), now is the time to start!