Why Freon Is Being Phased Out (and Why You Should Care)

January 2020 marked the end of all production and import of Freon into the U.S. Here's why that's happening and what it means for you.

Freon is the brand name for a series of manufactured gases used as refrigerants. Examples include R-12, often used in refrigerators, and R-22 (also called HCFC-22), used in home air conditioning units. As of January 2020, R-22 is no longer made in or imported into the U.S.

What is the Freon Phaseout?

Though Freon/R-22 is an excellent refrigerant, it has catastrophic effects on the ozone layer if released. For this reason, an official Freon phaseout began in the early 1990s. The last R-22 equipment was manufactured in 2009, and as of January 2020 only existing or recycled R-22 is available in the U.S.

How Do I Know What My AC Uses?

On your central air conditioning system, look for a white manufacturer’s label, usually found on the outside condenser unit. It has a lot of information, but you’re only concerned for the manufacture date and refrigerant type.

If your central AC unit was manufactured in 2015 or later, you’re in the clear. December 2014 was the last manufacture date of any air conditioners that use R-22. After that time, all new units were manufactured to use a replacement refrigerant, most commonly R-410A.

The label should also show a refrigerant type. This is essential information for a service call, so it should be prominently displayed on the label. If it says R-22 or HCFC-22, then you know you have Freon. If it says R-410A, then you have a modern replacement. There are other types of refrigerant, but these are the most common. If you see another refrigerant listed, check with an HVAC pro for a definitive answer.

My AC Uses Freon/R-22. Now What?

It won’t affect you at all unless your system develops a leak. Air conditioners are closed systems, and should never need to be “topped off” or have the coolant changed.

That said, leaks do happen. If your refrigerant level drops, you’ll have to decide whether to refill with R-22 or replace the whole system. It’s still perfectly legal to own an R-22 system and to buy and use existing R-22 to recharge it. But with an increasingly scarce supply, that option is only going to be more expensive as time goes on. If you find yourself in that situation, it’s time to look at the cost of upgrading your air conditioning system. It might make more sense to upgrade rather than pump money into an aging unit.

Can I Just Add the New Stuff?

In short: No.

Refrigerants work by being compressed and allowed to expand. Different gases need different pressures to function, which means you can’t blend coolants.

Think of it like trying to top off your car’s gas tank with kerosene. It’ll go in the tank, but it’s not going to end well.

Can I Upgrade the Refrigerant on an Older System?

This is where is gets tricky. The best answer is, probably not.

The longer answer is, it depends on what type of oil and system pressure your air conditioner uses. Some non-R-22 coolants are usable in some systems designed for R-22, but most are not. At the least a conversion involves a complete overhaul, so savings might be minimal compared with upgrading to a new, fully warrantied air conditioning system. It’s best to consult with an HVAC professional to determine what’s best in your situation.

If you’d like more information about the phaseout, the EPA has extensive information on what the Freon phaseout means for homeowners and businesses.