What is Freon and Freon Replacement?

If you have ever had air conditioner service that required replenishment or replacement of the Freon in your system, you may have wondered, “What is Freon?” and “Why is it essential for my cooling system?” Our HVAC experts will explain the various types of Freon, how to know if your AC needs Freon, how to replace Freon in an AC unit, and how often the Freon in your system needs to be replaced.

AC Coolant—Freon (R22) Refrigerant Replacement

To understand Freon and the important role it plays in your AC unit, let’s start with the basics — AC coolant and what it does.

Central air conditioners, portable air conditioners, refrigerators, freezers, and dehumidifiers all have one thing in common: the use of a cooling agent. In the HVAC world, we commonly refer to this cooling agent as “AC coolant.” Until recently, Freon was nearly synonymous with AC coolant.

An AC coolant circulates through the interior coils of an appliance. These coils are designed to cool the air passing or help condense water out of humid air. The AC coolant is critical; without it, an air conditioner cannot produce cold air. Until the early 2000s, Freon, also called R22 refrigerant, was by far the most common refrigerant used by HVAC professionals.

What Is Freon?

There are several types of Freon used in cooling systems today, but originally, a Freon called R22 refrigerant or hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC-22), was the coolant that was widely used in air conditioning systems until 2004. Since 2004, the traditional R22 type of Freon has been phased out, and it’s now illegal to install equipment that uses R22 as a coolant.

The phaseout of R22 began in earnest in 2004 and became official in 2010 when the Environmental Protection Agency banned the production and installation of R22-reliant appliances. This was done to meet the standards established by the Montreal Protocol, which was initiated in 1987 to end the use of ozone-depleting substances worldwide. Although R22 remained in production in drastically reduced quantities until 2020, it was eventually replaced by more environmentally friendly options.

What Are The Different Types of Freon?

Technically, there is only one type of Freon — R22 refrigerant — and the manufacture, sale, and use are now banned. Confusingly, the term Freon is a registered trademark of the Chemours Company, but it remains a common synonym for other AC refrigerants that are legal to use. When we refer to “Freon” throughout this article, we mean AC refrigerant. Now that R22 is banned, many homeowners may wonder how to replace Freon in an AC unit. Do you need a new air conditioning system, or can you replace R22 with another refrigerant?

Fortunately, there are several alternatives available today, including:

  1. R22 Refrigerant: Although this banned refrigerant is still available for use, it is expensive, inefficient, difficult to get, and not environmentally friendly.
  2. R32 Refrigerant: R32 is an AC refrigerant compatible with units designed to run on Freon. R32 is an odorless gas that is far less damaging to the ozone layer than Freon. It is also potentially flammable.
  3. R-410A Refrigerant: One of the first R22 alternatives to come out after the Freon ban, R-410A was soon recalled because it, too, has serious effects on the environment.
  4. R-454B Refrigerant: This refrigerant was developed to replace R-410A once it was recalled. R-454B is best suited to commercial chillers and heat pumps.
  5. R-134a Refrigerant: This refrigerant is widely used worldwide and does not contribute to ozone depletion. One reason for its popularity is its lack of chlorine atoms.

Additional AC refrigerants are being developed to improve efficiency and minimize environmental damage.

How is Freon Replaced?

Only a licensed HVAC professional should replace Freon in an AC unit for health reasons and to protect the environment. If you’re curious about how a service professional replaces Freon in an AC unit, they will generally follow these steps:

  1. Safety First: Before starting the process, a service professional will shut off the power to the unit.
  2. Assessment: The system is evaluated to check for any leaks to repair and determine the amount/kind of refrigerant needed for the replacement.
  3. Recover Old Refrigerant: A refrigerant recovery machine removes any R22 from the system without releasing it into the air, which can harm the environment.
  4. Vacuum the System: With the leaks repaired, a service professional will use a vacuum pump to remove every trace of moisture or contaminants in the system.
  5. Add Refrigerant: The service person adds the replacement refrigerant, likely R410A, depending upon the HVAC specifications.
  6. Monitoring and Testing: The HVAC expert monitors the running system to ensure there are no leaks, the pressure is correct, and the system is cooling as it should.
  7. Documentation: The amount and type of Freon replacement added is documented along with any repairs made. This record is essential for future maintenance and service.

How Often Does Freon Need to Be Replaced?

An AC system that is operating efficiently and regularly serviced will maintain the proper refrigerant levels for years. Older systems that have developed a leak, will require adding refrigerant to the system to keep it cooling properly.

What Are The Benefits of Upgrading Your System?

Upgrading an aging HVAC unit offers several benefits:

  1. Environmental Impact: When you replace your AC unit with a model that uses newer refrigerant, you help to protect the ozone layer.
  2. Legal & Available: Unlike newer refrigerants, Freon (R22) is no longer legal or available to use. So, replacing an older system that uses R22 is a necessity.
  3. Enhanced Cooling Efficiency: A newer AC system operates at peak cooling efficiency, which will help lower your energy costs.
  4. Equipment Life: New AC units use modern refrigerants that are more efficient and less corrosive than older types.
  5. Improved Resale: When selling your home, having a fully modernized AC system is a selling point.
  6. Compatibility with Modern Equipment: New AC systems are designed and built to use modern refrigerants.

For these and other reasons, upgrading your aging AC unit is a good choice.

What Are The Risks of Freon Replacement?

A homeowner should never replace the Freon in their HVAC system on their own. Only a licensed HVAC service professional with the right tools and training should replace Freon in an AC unit. Replacing Freon on your own involves the following risks:

  1. Health Hazards: Freon and other refrigerants are toxic. Exposure to these chemicals can cause respiratory distress, dizziness, or even loss of consciousness.
  2. Incompatibility Issues: It’s essential to replace Freon with an appropriate refrigerant. Choosing the wrong one will damage system components.
  3. Avoid Leaks: Minor mistakes made when replacing Freon can cause leaks, impair system cooling efficiency, or result in a complete system failure.

If your system is not cooling properly, contact your local Aire Serv® professional to check your AC unit for a leak.

How Can I Prevent Freon Leaks?

The best way to prevent a Freon leak is with regular AC maintenance. Maintaining a consistent AC service schedule can identify potential weak points, make necessary repairs, and provide guidance on other AC components. Between service calls, monitor your system’s performance to ensure it's operating at peak performance.

FAQ About Freon

How do I know if my AC is using Freon?

Typically, AC units have a nameplate or label on the outdoor compressor that states the type of refrigerant used. If your AC unit was manufactured before 2010, it is likely using Freon.

What is the difference between Freon and refrigerant or coolant?

Freon is the trademarked name of a specific type of refrigerant or coolant used in air conditioners. It circulates through the AC, starting as a gas, converting to a liquid, and returning to gas. Whether you call it Freon, coolant, or refrigerant, it works to maintain cooling in HVAC systems, cars, and appliances.

Keep Your Cool with Help For Aire Serv

If your AC system is not cooling properly, it’s time to contact your local Aire Serv professional for HVAC services. Our team of certified AC pros will check your system to ensure it’s operating efficiently. If needed, we’ll make any necessary repairs or recommend upgrading to a newer, more efficient system.

As part of the Neighborly family of home service providers, all our work is backed by the Neighborly Done Right Promise™, which ensures your satisfaction.

Schedule an appointment or contact the Aire Serv location nearest you.

Share Article name