R-22 vs. R-410a
R-22 vs. R-410a: What is It?
R-22 vs. R-410a: What It Is
The type of gas used in your air conditioning or heat pump system is either R-22 (Freon) or R-410a (Puron®). R-22 has long been known to be damaging to the environment when released into the atmosphere. As a result, in January 2010 the government mandated that the HVAC industry switch from R-22 to R-410a for use in new condensers and heat pumps. R-22 itself will (probably always) be available for repairs, though the cost will continue to skyrocket (it has tripled in cost over the last two years). As far as any speculation that the government will mandate a change from R-410a to some other gas, this is purely speculative and should not be a concern to any homeowner. Whatever equipment you put in now will need to be replaced long before such a change happens – it took 15 years to switch to R-410a.
R-22 vs. R-410a: What It Means
The industry was initially mandated to quit making equipment (condensers and heat pumps) that used R-22. Because of complaints from the refrigeration industry, the EPA has allowed an exception: condensers and heat pumps that use R-22 can still be manufactured but they have to be sold without the gas in them, and, they can only be used for replacements not for system replacements or new construction. The condenser or heat pump is only part of your air conditioning system, there is an evaporator coil inside on top of the blower compartment and there are two copper lines that connect the two pieces of equipment in a loop, the refrigeration line-set. Almost all new evaporator coils can be used with either an R-22 system or an R-410a system. They cannot, however, have been used with both types of gas: once you have released gas into the evaporator coil it becomes dedicated to that type of gas and cannot later be used with a different type of gas. (The reason is that the construction of the evaporator coil prohibits successfully cleaning the gas residue out of the coil.) The refrigeration line-set, however, can either be flushed clean with a special gas or replaced.
R-22 vs. R-410a: How To Decide
You have three choices when faced with a major repair to an R-22 system: 1) you can repair your existing system by replacing the compressor or one of the coils; 2) you can replace the evaporator coil or the entire outdoor unit with an R-22 unit; or, 3) you can replace the outdoor unit, the indoor evaporator coil and the refrigeration line-set with R-410a components. Cost is almost always the deciding factor when making these kinds of decisions, but you should understand the consequences of the decision you make. If your problem is a leaking evaporator coil (the coil above the blower, a common problem and the location of most leaks in a system) then your solution is replacing the evaporator coil, a $7-900 job. The problem with this solution is that you are committing that coil to R-22 refrigerant. If you later have to replace the condenser or heat pump (the outdoor unit) then you will either have to hope that they are still manufacturing R-22 units or replace the outdoor unit with an R-410a unit which will require you to replace the evaporator coil again. A similar problem occurs when you have a failure of a major component in the outdoor unit, either the compressor or the condenser coil. These repairs are in the $12-1600 price range and will keep you committed to using R-22. If you choose to replace the entire outdoor component rather than fix it, then you will have to replace it with one of the uncharged R-22 units. There are several reasons that this is not recommended: the unit itself actually costs more than a charged R-410a unit, you will have the additional cost of the R-22 to charge the unit, and, the warranty offered on these units is not as good as the warranty on an R-410a unit. The problem with committing to R-22 is simple: this refrigerant is basically no longer supported. Even though there are replacement condensers now, there is no guarantee that they will always be available, rather, there are strong indications that they will again stop manufacturing these units. Our suggestion is that you use the opportunity provided by the failure of a major component to switch over to R-410a.