Though it’s been the industry standard used in air conditioners and heat pumps for decades, R-22 refrigerant is on its way out. In its place, however, is R-410A, but this change doesn’t have everyone’s full support quite yet. Though it’s required by law for new HVAC systems to use this new refrigerant, the transition is still being met with some doubt. For both HVAC contractors and consumers alike, there is still a lot to learn about R-410A refrigerant, namely, how it stacks up to its predecessor and how it will affect the HVAC market moving forward.
Laws and Safety
Starting in January, 2004, R-22 began being phased out in the United States. Because of its potential to deplete ozone, R-22 and other hydro-chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are considered unsafe and unfit for the environment. The Montreal Protocol, a treaty created to protect the ozone, required that HCFC consumption is reduced in the US by 75% below baseline in 2010. In 2015, that number expanded to 90% below baseline and by 2020, it will reach 99.5%.
R-22 may still be used to service existing equipment, but cannot be used in new systems. Instead, R-410A is substituted.
In new air conditioners, R-410A can be used for more efficient and reliable operation. In comparison to R-22, R-410A can absorb more heat, meaning your AC compressor will run cooler and reduce potential overheating. R-410A functions at a much higher pressure than R-22, too, so much so that if you used it in a unit designed specifically for R-22, it would cause damage from the abundance of stress.
Finally, the oil used to keep compressors lubricated is different for R-22 refrigerant and R-410A. While R-22 units use mineral oil, R-410A systems instead use synthetic oil. The increased solubility of this synthetic oil means that R-410A systems run smoother and reduce stress on the compressor.
Transition to R-410
Though it’s required by law for new air conditioners in the US to employ the use of R-410A instead of R-22 and other HCFCs, the change hasn’t been fully implemented. For consumers, the question of whether it can be as reliable and stable as R-22 refrigerant is one that is left looming. Similarly, without confidence in this new refrigerant, some HVAC contractors may find it hard to recommend it when promoting new systems that use it. Instead of a warm welcome, R-410A has been met with some doubt.
Even with consumers and contractors onboard, there are still come kinks that have to be worked out before R-410A can fully take over. For example, because R-22 and R-410A use different oils, when it comes time to retrofit an existing system with this new refrigerant, there may be some initial risk. If the two oils are mixed, the increased pressure from R-410A may cause the system to fail. Likewise, R410A refrigerant absorbs more moisture than R-22, which can cause more complications. In these cases, it’s important for technicians to thoroughly evacuate an older system. Slowly but surely, however, confidence is building in this new refrigerant, giving both contractors and consumers peace of mind.
R-410A is quickly taking the place of R-22 refrigerant, whether consumers prefer it or not. By law, R-22 cannot be used in newer systems, though that doesn’t currently stop it from being used in some older equipment. As a result of this supply and demand, R-22 prices will be on the rise and repair costs for these units will see the same steady increase. Ultimately, R-410A is slated to be the substitute refrigerant for all HVAC systems that would otherwise use R-22, but until then, consumers will be the ones to decide how long R-22 refrigerant and its corresponding systems will last.