Modern air conditioning units no longer use Freon to help keep homes comfortable during the warm summer months. That transition came relatively recently, ending a decades-long reliance.
So, what happened to Freon, and could your AC unit still use it?
A Brief History of Freon
The earliest air conditioning units and refrigerators sprouted up in the late 1800s and relied on a combination of methyl chloride, sulfur dioxide, and ammonia. Each of these gases alone is toxic, but combined, leaks were commonly lethal. They weren’t the sort of appliances families might have welcomed into their homes, even if they had electricity. Freon became one of the most commonly used gas in both air conditioners and refrigerators.
Who Invented Freon?
Some of the biggest industrial companies of the early 20th century, including General Motors and DuPont, invested money to find an alternative refrigerant. It wasn’t until 1928 when Thomas Midgley, Jr. and Charles Franklin Kettering invented Freon; a safer gas that met the needs of commercial, residential, and automotive cooling.
Air Conditioning Comes Home
Refrigeration came first, with Frigidaire riding both the advancements in artificial cooling technology and the spread of electricity beyond urban centers. By 1935, more than 8 million homes in the United States had an air conditioner.
Why Is Freon Banned?
If Freon sounded like the perfect compound, it was. That is until scientists learned more about its effect on the atmosphere. Freon is relatively nontoxic, but as a chlorofluorocarbon, or CFC, it is a chemical that depletes the ozone layer. The widespread use of CFCs, in conjunction with the world’s reliance on fossil fuels, contributed to the greenhouse effect causing climate change.
Is Freon Still Used in AC Units?
Freon is no longer used in new AC units. It’s taken a long time to phase out Freon in AC units, a process that was started by the EPA in 1992.
By 2010, manufacturers had largely shifted away from producing home air conditioning units with Freon which, by that time, was known as HCFC-22 and R-22 to differentiate it from other CFCs.
The long phasing-out process came to its conclusion on January 1, 2020. All Freon production is now banned in the United States, and it’s also illegal to import the product into the country.
If you purchased your AC unit after 2015, you do not need to worry about Freon.
Do Car Air Conditioning Units Still Use Freon?
Like air conditioning units, auto manufacturers stopped using Freon, as well. The last cars and trucks to use it rolled off the lines in 2010.
What Do Air Conditions Use Instead of Freon?
Today, and since 2015, a new refrigerant called R410A, or Puron, is used as the standard replacement for Freon.
While most American homes have already transitioned away from Freon, those that haven’t will still be able to use limited stockpiles still allowed in the US, or they can opt for recycled Freon to keep their homes cool. Air conditioner manufacturers are allowed to recycle used Freon to keep older air conditioning units running. Older units may need Freon to replace fluid lost to leaks or deterioration.
Don’t Worry, You Don’t Have to Replace Your AC
Homeowners are not obligated to replace their air conditioning unit if it still uses Freon. In most cases, homes with Freon can have their systems updated with alternatives to Freon. Our technicians can help you determine if your air conditioning unit has already been updated.
If you want to know how to tell if your AC unit uses Freon, it’s simple: Check the large white weatherproof label on the front of your AC unit. All systems using Freon will be labeled as containing HCFC-22 or R-22; the two names of modern Freon. Alternatively, if your system has been updated with Puron, the more environmentally friendly refrigerant, the label would have been updated by your HVAC technician to read R-410A.
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