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AC refrigerant: Definition, facts and updates

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You may not know this, but for virtually every person in modern society, refrigerant touches your life nearly every day. That cold beverage from your refrigerator... the cool breeze from your car’s air conditioning vents... and even that warm air from your heat pump... all courtesy of refrigerant.

Refrigerant has been a vital part of indoor cooling systems since Willis Carrier invented the modern method of conditioning air in 1902. And chances are if you are reading this blog in the middle of summer, you are doing so in the air conditioned comfort of your home or your favorite local coffee shop.

What is Refrigerant? 

Refrigerant is a chemical compound capable of transitioning from liquid to gas and back again. During the process, its abilities to absorb and transfer heat have been the key to cooling, refrigeration and heat pump systems for many years.

Historically, refrigerant has been manufactured using a number of different chemical combinations. Some of the most commonly recognized names of refrigerant include:

  • Freon®
  • R-12
  • R-22
  • R-134a 
  • R-410a 
  • Puron®

And while Freon is actually a registered trademark of The Chemours Company, it is used by many to describe any form of refrigerant in the same way people use “Xerox®” or “Coke®” when they are talking about making a copy or drinking a soft drink. 

What Refrigerant Does

Whether you call it refrigerant, Freon, R-22, R-410a, Puron or something else, it all does the same thing. As a part of your air conditioner or heat pump system, it helps transfer heat and humidity out of your home for cooling... or draws heat from outdoor air and brings it inside for heating. 

How Refrigerant Has Changed

Because many of the traditional formulations of refrigerant, including R-22, contained ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), production of equipment that uses R-22 effectively ended in January of 2010. More recent blends such as R-410a and Carrier’s trademarked Puron® refrigerant have been approved and listed by the U.S. EPA as acceptable alternatives for R-22.

Carrier was the first company to offer an air conditioner with our own, non-ozone depleting Puron® refrigerant in 1996, 24 years before the R-22 ban on new production. 

What it Means to You Now

Because air conditioning and heat pump systems can last 15 years or longer, there are still many R-22 systems in service today. 

If your system was installed in 2010 or before 

  • You likely have a system with R-22 refrigerant.
  • Use of R-22 is being phased out, so prices for re-charging a system with R-22 could dramatically rise.
  • By 2020, no new R-22 will be available. Only “used” or “reclaimed” R-22 will be available for system repairs/recharging.
  • Due to potentially escalating costs for repairs, it may be more economically sound to replace an ailing air conditioner or heat pump with a new model that uses Puron or R-410a refrigerant.

If your system was installed after 2010

  • You probably have a system with R-410a, Puron or an equivalent, non-ozone depleting refrigerant
  • In the short-term, cost for adding refrigerant to your system should remain somewhat stable due to ample supplies
  • Depending upon usage, build quality and condition, your current system could provide several more years of quality service

Turn to the Experts 

If your current system is struggling to keep you cool, running low on refrigerant is just one of many potential issues. The problem could be as simple as a clogged filter, or a more complicated and expensive issue with your unit’s compressor. The best way to find a solution? Contact your local Carrier HVAC contractor for professional troubleshooting, repair, or replacement with a new, higher efficiency system.

Trademarks are the property of their respective owners. 

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