Modern House — Heating in Sandy, UT

If you're in the market for a new HVAC system, you might notice that the refrigerant it uses may be different from what's used in your current system. Today's residential HVAC systems rely on R-410A, a newer and more eco-friendly type of refrigerant that's seeing widespread use throughout the HVAC industry.

R-410A is currently replacing R-22 as the refrigerant of choice for modern HVAC systems. Read on to discover why this change is taking place and the impact it will have on your next HVAC replacement.

What Is R-410A?

Marketed under the brand names Puron and Suva 410A, R-410A is a refrigerant specifically designed as an environmentally friendlier alternative to R-22 and other hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants. Developed and patented during the early 1990s, R-410A was first used in residential air conditioning units in 1996.

R-410A's hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) composition helps it stand out from its older HCFC-based counterpart. HFCs lack chlorine, a chemical element that breaks down ozone into oxygen. Recent studies have shown that HCFCs can have a significantly negative impact on the ozone layer when released into the atmosphere.

Why Are Manufacturers Making the Switch?

For decades, HVAC manufacturers have relied on R-22 refrigerant for its effectiveness in air conditioners and heat pumps. That all changed with the introduction of the 1987 Montreal Protocol and subsequent changes in EPA regulations. Since then, the EPA has ordered a phase-out of CFC and HCFC production as well as a phase-out of equipment using CFC and HCFC refrigerants.

Since January 1, 2010, HVAC manufacturers have been banned from building HVAC systems that come pre-charged with R-22 refrigerant. The gradual phase-out process will also bring an end to R-22 production and other HCFC-based refrigerants in 2020, leaving only existing stocks of R-22 and supplies scavenged from older HVAC equipment.

The ultimate goal of the EPA is to completely eliminate HCFC production and importation by 2030. The HVAC industry has since adapted by introducing HVAC systems that use R-410A and other ozone-friendly refrigerants.

What Are the Benefits of Using R-410A?

A major benefit of R-410A is its relatively low impact on the environment when compared to HCFC refrigerants. Unlike R-22, R-410A poses little to no harm to the ozone layer. As more R-22 HVAC systems are retired in favor of R-410A HVAC units, you won't have to worry about the prospect of a refrigerant leak contributing to a hole in the ozone layer.

Protecting the ozone layer isn't the only benefit that R-410A offers over R-22. R-410A excels over its older and less eco-friendly counterpart in several areas, including:

Better efficiency. R-410A absorbs and moves more latent heat than R-22 due to its higher relative pressure and refrigeration capacity. The end result is a refrigerant that's more efficient at heating and cooling than R-22.

Improved longevity. R-410A uses synthetic lubricant instead of mineral oils, resulting in less wear and tear on compressors and other components.

Better availability. The widespread adoption of R-410A HVAC equipment has made stocks of the new refrigerant much easier to find than R-22.

HVAC systems that use R-410A are also less expensive to maintain than comparable R-22 HVAC systems.

Can You Use It in Your Old HVAC System?

R-410A and R-22 are completely incompatible with one another due to differences in lubricant and operating pressures. This means your HVAC technician won't be able to drop R-410A into a system that's already using R-22. Mixing both refrigerants into the same system can cause serious damage to your HVAC equipment.

However, you could convert your R-22 HVAC system into one that uses R-410A as long as the proper components are replaced. The compressor, evaporator coil, and condenser coil must be replaced with components rated for use in R-410A HVAC systems. Otherwise, your old components won't be able to withstand the higher-pressure refrigerant.

What If You Want to Keep Using R-22?

If you want to hold on to your R-22 HVAC unit a bit longer, you'll have plenty of options at your disposal. One option is the use of alternative refrigerants that offer a drop-in replacement for R-22. While some refrigerants offer a direct replacement with no changes necessary, others may require a complete change in lubricant due to compatibility issues.

In prior years, HVAC manufacturers have also used a regulatory loophole to sell R-22 HVAC units without violating EPA regulations. These dry charged R-22 HVAC units were sold without refrigerant, requiring technicians to charge the unit using their own refrigerant.  Sales of dry charged HVAC units ended in 2016 due to tightened regulations.

With supplies of R-22 steadily dwindling due to the mandated phase-out, the costs of keeping your old HVAC system in good shape will increase dramatically. You're better off replacing your current HVAC system with one that uses widely available refrigerants like R-410A. The experts at Hartman Heating, Air and Fireplaces can help you find an HVAC system that's a good match for your home.