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Freon® and AC: A Brief Read on the Basics

Freon and ACIf you’ve heard anything about how air conditioners work, you may have heard the term Freon®. Freon is a chemical that is used as a refrigerant in most HVAC systems in the United States – or what helps your AC actually cool your home. However, because we learn more every day about how best to protect our environment and all the things that can cause harm – Freon will someday be a thing of the past when it comes to the air conditioning units in your home. Here’s a quick lesson on Freon and AC: why it’s been used, why it’s being phased out, and what’s next for air conditioners.

Why Was Freon Ever Used In ACs If It Is Dangerous?

The answer to this is: once upon a time, Freon was believed to be the safest option. Freon air conditioning units – or ACs that use HCFC refrigerants (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) – were created to take the place of air conditioners that used CFC refrigerants (chlorofluorocarbons) because they were thought to be safer. HCFCs are nontoxic, noncorrosive, and nonflammable, which is good for homes, but turned out to be just as bad for the ozone layer. 

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, CFC production stopped in the United States in 1995 and was replaced by Freon (or HCFCs) as a refrigerant. Now, HCFCs are being gradually phased out, with most production and importing stopped by 2020, and all production and importing stopped by 2030.

Do Homeowners Need To Be Concerned About The Phase Out?

You may be worried if you currently have an AC unit that uses Freon, but don’t be. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says homeowners won’t be required to stop using a unit that uses HCFC-22 (the most common Freon/refrigerant used in ACs) or get it modified to use a new, ozone-safe refrigerant.  Since the EPA phased it out starting in 2010 and production will be stopped completely by 2020, they expect by the time the phase-out period ends, most people will have already replaced their old Freon AC units with better models because air conditioners and HVAC equipment typically lasts 10-20 years.

In addition, if your AC unit that uses Freon outlives the phase out, HCFC-22 is likely to be available for many years because it can be recovered and recycled from old units, according to the Department of Energy.

What’s The Alternative If I Don’t Want To Use Freon Now?

There are tons of energy efficient air conditioner models that use environmentally safe refrigerants. In fact, the newer units being made use only ozone-friendly refrigerants/hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and they will lead the market by the time the Freon phase-out period ends.  So, if you want to get it replaced now with something that uses safer refrigerants – like Carrier’s Puron, which is a chlorine-free refrigerant – you can! And remember the benefits of switching to a newer unit is that it is not only better for the environment, but getting a high-efficiency AC can save you money on energy use too!

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Freon® is a registered trademark of The Chemours Company FC, LLC.

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