How R401a Outperforms R22 and Why You Should Upgrade Now

September 13, 2022
R22 Vs. R401a

Refrigerant is often referred to as the lifeblood of home cooling systems. Without it, air conditioners would simply be moving air around rather than lowering its temperature. Refrigerant is the magical addition that transforms residential ACs from glorified fans into veritable powerhouses that can create and maintain comfortable living environments. While you probably don’t think much about the refrigerant that moves through the air conditioner in your Seattle, Washington home, now is definitely the time to do so. This is especially true if your current air conditioner was manufactured before 2010.

What Is R401a

Manufactured under the brand name Puron, R401a is the new standard for residential AC refrigerant within the United States. Introduced by Carrier Corporation in 1996, Puron is believed to be far less detrimental to the natural environment than its predecessor, R22 or Freon. While R22 is known to deplete the earth’s ozone layer, R401a offers more efficient performance and has a far lesser environmental impact. By nature of its very different chemical composition, R401a isn’t an ozone-depleting chemical at all.

However, R401a operates at a much higher pressure level than R22 does. This means that it can only be used in air conditioners that were designed specifically for this refrigerant type. If you have an older air conditioner model that relies on R22, using R401a in this unit would prove both unsafe and highly destructive. R22 air conditioners must be heavily modified to accommodate R401a. These modifications are both costly and unfeasible. It is also always cheaper, easier, and far more efficient to simply upgrade to an R401a air conditioner instead.

What You Need to Know About the Ban on R22

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) instituted a nationwide ban on R22 due to its harmful effects as an ozone-depleting agent. Given the widespread use of R22 as a residential AC refrigerant, this ban was implemented as a long-term phase-out to reduce its impact on both the public and private sectors.

In 2010, the continued manufacture of air conditioners that rely on R22 was outlawed. Although R22 air conditioners that were made before this time are still used in homes and sometimes still sold, they can no longer be made and brought to market as brand new products. In 2020, the importation and domestic production of R22 were similarly outlawed. To date, there remains a finite supply of R22 in the nation that can still be used to recharge existing R22 air conditioners.

As with all things, the limited and ever-decreasing supply of R22 has made it increasingly costly for consumers to obtain. As of January 2020, the difficulty in finding R22 for sale has increased for many homeowners as well.

How the R22 Ban Affects Consumers

The ban on R22 is a legislative push for both consumers and companies to move away from the production and consumption of ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) like Freon. It is a calculated response to research showing the long-term and devastating effects that HCFCs have on the natural environment. It is also an effort to promote more environmentally friendly alternatives in the form of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) like Puron. However, for consumers, this push additionally makes it possible to achieve higher levels of cooling efficiency in other ways.

It’s important to note that air conditioners that were manufactured before 2010 have either reached or passed their mid-life. After approximately 10 years of use, many of these models have already lost more than half of their overall efficiency. Moreover, considerable innovations have been made in home heating and cooling technologies since the production of new R22 air conditioners was outlawed. Thus, making the upgrade to an air conditioner that doesn’t rely on Freon can be beneficial in a vast number of ways. Consumers can enjoy increased home comfort, increased convenience, and greater overall ease of use. The latest options in residential air conditioners even include models that incorporate smart technologies that enable cooling systems to optimize their own performance.

How R401a Outperforms Freon

Switching to R401a isn’t just better for the environment. It’s also better for air conditioners. R401a offers superior heat absorption and release. This ability limits the wear on AC compressors and reduces the likelihood of having compressors overheat. Due to this fact, air conditioners that are built to use R401a may last far longer. R401a also uses an improved compressor lubricant in the form of synthetic oil. This oil is significantly more resistant to heat than the mineral oil used as a compressor lubricant in R22 air conditioners. Its all-around superiority makes it capable of ensuring smooth compressor performance over the long term.

What Are the Benefits of Upgrading to an R401a Air Conditioner Right Now?

At the present moment, there are a number of important financial benefits to be gained by making the change to an R401a air conditioner. Doing so means side-stepping the high costs and frustration of finding and paying for Freon. As Freon supplies decrease, the challenges in getting it will only grow worse.

For homeowners who consciously strive to limit their carbon footprints and reduce their overall environmental impact, switching over to R401a is currently the most environmentally friendly choice. HFCs don’t contribute to ozone depletion, and they also limit the amount of waste in landfills by extending the lifespans of both AC compressors and air conditioners themselves.

With less compressor stress and better heat absorption, R401a also contributes to more comfortable living environments. When you make the decision to upgrade your air conditioner, your new model will last longer, perform better, and give you greater peace of mind.

The Evolution of Residential AC Refrigerants Continues

Notwithstanding the many benefits of R401a when compared to the lower efficiency and environmental drawbacks of Freon, Puron isn’t guaranteed to maintain its status as the gold standard for residential AC refrigerant for long. In fact, there are already a number of single-component refrigerants that are poised to take their place in decades to come. Although R401a isn’t ozone-depleting, it does make modest contributions to global warming.

One such single-component refrigerant, R32, boasts less than one-third the global-warming potential of Puron. However, before the widespread adoption of any new residential refrigerant occurs, building codes, building standards, and regulatory policies must be updated. By the time R-401a is phased out, the newest generation of air conditioners that have been built specifically for this HFC refrigerant will have already reached the end of their lifespans.

When to Schedule Your AC Replacement

The question of whether to upgrade your R22 air conditioner isn’t a matter of if, but when. For most homeowners, the sooner this is done, the better. If your AC system is between 10 and 12 years old, you must account for both the rising costs of Freon and the progressive efficiency losses that your home cooling equipment has already sustained. There’s also the concern of finding HVAC technicians soon who are both skilled and experienced in performing R22 air conditioner repairs. As R401a and R401a-using air conditioners quickly become the norm, these and other challenges are guaranteed to rear their heads.

At Brennan Heating & Air Conditioning, we’re skilled in servicing all air conditioner types. Whether your R22 air conditioner needs replaced or repaired, we can help. We offer reliable heating and cooling services to residents of the greater King County, Washington area. We also offer indoor air quality services, air duct cleaning, heat pump installation, and home energy consultations. To find out more about upgrading to R401a, give us a call today.

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