For most who use and enjoy the benefits of HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), understanding the nuances in the chemistry of refrigerants used in the cooling process isn’t common or necessary. But for the HVAC experts at Millian Aire, being up-to-date in the latest refrigerant trends is another way they separate themselves from the competition — and add value to their service says Alan Wilson, Millian Aire’s Vice President of Technology and Training.
A good example of this is the knowledge Millian Aire’s technicians have of the evolution of HVAC refrigerants since their development almost a century ago. Chemicals that “create the magic of air conditioning,” Wilson says, refrigerants create a cooling effect while expanding or vaporizing. Chemicals that “create the magic of air conditioning,” Wilson says, refrigerants create a cooling effect while expanding or vaporizing. Traditionally, Wilson explains, air-conditioning units have used a HCFC (hydrochlorofluorocarbon) refrigerant called R-22, or freon. Developed in the 1930s, R-22 has been the refrigerant of choice for decades.
Changing Times For Refrigerants
In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, it was discovered that chlorine, a component of CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) and HCFC refrigerants, is damaging to the ozone layer. Subsequently, there was a movement to migrate the HVAC industry from R-22 to a new refrigerant. This prompted the 1987 Montreal Protocol, an agreement signed by 197 countries that agreed to phase R-22 out of production.
The process to phase out R-22 has had an extended timeline because countless HVAC units used R-22 refrigerant at the time of the Montreal Protocol — and many still do today. “It is currently illegal to produce new supplies of R-22,” says Wilson, “but it is fully legal to use it.”
In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created a plan to ban the production and import of R-22 by January 1, 2020. Stockpiles of R-22 still exist, however, and there is also the ability to repurpose and reuse it, both of which have extended its use in some HVAC appliances.
What is R-22 refrigerant being replaced with?
Following the drive to move away from R-22, various refrigerants were tested and created, with a hydrofluorocarbon compound (HFC) refrigerant called R-410A (also known as puron) emerging as the most common alternative to R-22. R-410A is chlorine-free, making it a better alternative for the environment.
However, as global warming became better understood, including the potential of many HFC refrigerants to contribute to it, the latest amendment to the Montreal Protocol, the Kigali Amendment, has proposed to phase out R-410A and other similar refrigerants. This is expected to begin sometime this decade.
What is The New Refrigerant for Home AC?
Currently, stored or repurposed R-22 and R-410A can still be used in HVAC systems — but at a high cost, especially in the case of the former. “A 30-pound cylinder of R-22 used to cost about $120 — now it’s more than $800,” notes Wilson. The price increase for R-410A has been more moderate, but its costs are rising as well — up to about $180 per cylinder, he adds.
Since the rising price increase isn’t attractive for many customers, the hunt is on for the next-gen refrigerant. In addition, there’s also a keen focus on creating refrigerants that are better for the environment. Currently, the leading replacement for R-410A refrigerant is R-32, a refrigerant with one-third the global warming potential of R‑410A.
Servicing Your HVAC
Millian Aire is successful at navigating changing trends and providing solutions for clients. If a customer’s HVAC system uses R-22 or R-410A and needs repair, Millian Aire technicians can extract the old refrigerant and install R-32 or another recommended refrigerant. Doing so helps extend the life of the system and prolong replacement, while diminishing environmental impact and avoiding the high cost of the first- and second-generation refrigerants now being phased out.
Experience and ethics count in choosing an HVAC provider and servicer, says Wilson. Some HVAC technicians may mix refrigerants – for instance, adding R-32 to a unit using R-410A that’s low on refrigerant. This goes against EPA regulations and can also decrease the unit’s lifespan and efficiency.
“Don’t let a technician mix your unit’s refrigerants,” cautions Wilson. “If that has been done, however, we at Millian Aire are able to determine if there is a mixture of refrigerants in a unit and can create solutions to mitigate that. We can also determine what refrigerant your system uses now.”