R22 vs. R410A – Making an Informed Decision

August 18, 2015

R22 vs R410A

In compliance with the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, the United States has prohibited the transport and sale of R-22 charged air conditioning equipment since January 1, 2010. Most people know R22 by the brand name Freon, while air conditioning technicians refer to it as R22, and the U.S. government has classified it as HCFC-22, a controlled substance. Whatever you choose to call it, prior to 2010 R22 had been the go to refrigerant for cooling homes and businesses. Composed of hydrofluorcarbon (HCFC), R22 emits chlorine atoms when it escapes into the atmosphere. These atoms damage the ozone, which acts as a blanket to help screen out ultra-violet rays which have been linked to skin cancer, one of the fastest growing cancers in the United States.

Under the Montreal Protocol, the EPA has made an effort to push consumers to switch from R22 (Freon) based air conditioning systems to R410A (brand name Puron) based systems. When it escapes (for example, through a leak in an evaporator or condenser coil), R410A does far less harm to the environment than R22. Because the Montreal Protocol banned R22-charged condensers, it appeared, back in 2010, that if your R22 condenser failed you would have no choice other than to purchase R410A equipment. This not only meant that you would have to replace the failed condenser unit with an R410A model, but, if your evaporator worked with R22 only, you would then have to replace that as well. An air conditioning system (condenser, evaporator coil and refrigerant lines) can operate with only one refrigerant; R22 and R410A must never mix. (Fortunately, modern evaporator coils can be converted from R22 to R410A). Since the 2010 deadline, manufacturers and dealers have found a way around the R22-charged condenser ban. They may legally dry-ship and sell R22-compatible condensers. That is, the condensers they sell do not contain any R22 refrigerant. Hence, they don’t violate the law. Once the equipment has been installed, an EPA certified technician can charge it up with R22. This means that you do still have a choice between upgrading your cooling system to R410A or replacing failed equipment with a unit which uses R22.

Besides the fact that R410A is less damaging to the environment, there are other advantages to using R410A-based equipment. For one thing, it is slightly more efficient than R22 equipment. Also, R410A based compressors run cooler than R22 based compressors and, consequently, are less likely to overheat and burn out. Another benefit of R410A air conditioning systems is that they use new, synthetic lubricants which circulate more efficiently than the mineral oil used to lubricate R22 systems. This translates to less wear and tear on the unit’s moving parts.

This is not to say that R410A is perfect. For one thing it operates under much higher pressure than R22 and charging up a system with R410A takes more time and more expertise than charging one with R22. This translates to slightly higher labor costs which eat up some of the savings in the cost of the R410A itself versus the R22. Furthermore, these systems exert a lot more pressure on air conditioning system components, including refrigerant lines. Manufacturers have taken this into consideration when constructing R410A compatible condensers; they have designed them with thicker, stronger shells to reduce the noise and the vibrations created by the compressor and to reduce the strain on the piping connections, thereby reducing the incidence of refrigerant leaks. Nonetheless, technicians out in the field are finding that R410A equipment generally does not last as long as really old R22 equipment. You may have gotten twenty or even thirty years out of an old R22 condenser. You may only get ten years out of a new R410A unit. Opting for a brand new R22 condenser will not solve this longevity problem. Due to changes in design and materials, the R22 condensers manufactured today are unlikely to last as long as their R22 predecessors.

The most important consideration as to whether to replace your condenser with an R22 or R410A based unit may be the rising cost of R22 refrigerant. Effective January 1, 2020, the domestic production and import of R22 will be banned all together. Many plants which traditionally manufactured R22 have already converted to the production of R410A and the cost of R22 has been steadily increasing as a result. After January 1, 2020, R22-based systems which have lost refrigerant can still be charged with recycled R22, but supplies are expected to be scarce and extremely expensive.

If you are among the minority who wish to replace their existing R22 condenser with new R22 equipment, time is running out. Some manufacturers have already ceased production of R22 equipment as they convert the last of their R22 production lines to R410 equipment.

By the way, R410A is no longer the newest kid on the block. The EPA would like to slowly move all American homes from R22 and R410A to an even newer refrigerant, R441A. R441A is expected to have zero impact on global warming and ozone depletion. There is just one small problem. The version of R441A producers have come up with so far is a highly flammable blend of ethane, propane, isobutane and n-butane, not necessarily the type of substance you want coursing through the refrigrant lines inside your walls. Consumers who have been unhappy about the conversion from R22 to R410A may find themselves missing R410A once the R441A refrigerant takes over.

Blogger Terry Portillo owns and operates ACU Air Heating and Air Conditioning in The Woodlands, Texas.

EPA Entertains Use of Flammable Refrigerant in American Homes

July 21, 2015


Even those Americans staunchly in favor of fighting global warming may find themselves balking at the idea of having the latest low-GWP (low global warming potential) refrigerant coursing through their walls. Hailed for its Zero Global Warming and Ozone Depletion Potential, R441A is considered the ideal upcoming refrigerant for use in U.S. homes. There’s just one small catch. Composed of ethane, propane, butane, and isobutane, R441 is flammable.

For now the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) has approved the use of R441A for refrigerators, freezers, and vending machines. However there is a push to have it approved for use in air conditioning compressors. Many Americans are just now getting accustomed to having R410A (Puron) charged air conditioners cool their homes. Others have yet to make the change from traditional R22 (Freon) systems to R410A. While R410A is more efficient and less damaging to the environment than R22, it operates under much higher pressure than its predecessor. Consequently, it takes more skill and more time for a technician to charge an R410 air conditioning system than it took to charge one that used R22. Furthermore, because of the extra pressure exerted on its coils, R410A charged equipment is not expected to last as long as the old R22 units.

Homeowners and air conditioning technicians have been learning, sometimes reluctantly, to live with this change. However, it’s unlikely that they will adapt as readily to the implementation of R441A. As Steven Mella (CEO for ComStar International) has put it, “Existing systems are not designed for flammable refrigerants. You need systems with explosion-proof components, such as switches that won’t create a spark.” Before the regular use of R441A can be implemented, there is the little matter of engineering cylinders and valves for recovering flammable refrigerant. And, of course, the air conditioning equipment itself must be redesigned.

If global warming is, indeed, looked upon as an environmental ill, low-GWP refrigerant may be one of those treatments which proves far worse than the disease it sets out to cure.

Blogger Terry Portillo owns and operates ACU Air Heating and Air Conditioning in The Woodlands, Texas.

Italian Farm Animals Get Air Conditioning

July 21, 2015

Italian Calf

With temperatures hitting 104 degrees, Italy is experiencing its worst heatwave in ten years. Residents and tourists are not the only ones suffering. Italian farm animals, in particular those confined to barns, are sweltering in the summer heat. This translates to lower milk production by stressed dairy cows, as well as fewer eggs being laid by chickens. Even the pigs have gone on a hunger strike.

According to the Coldiretti Farm Association, “Stressed dairy cows produced 50 million fewer litres of milk than usual during the first two weeks of July.” Egg production is down by five to ten percent and hogs are slimming down instead of fattening up. Many Italian farmers have launched a counter-offensive against the heat by providing their cows and pigs with fans, showers, and even air conditioning.

In the meantime, the zoo in Rome is giving its primates and bears popsicles (made from frozen fruits and vegetables) and Milan is allowing its barristers to shed their heavy black robes. Tourists are being offered free water bottles over at the Roman colliseum. However their best bet might be to ditch their art and history itineraries and become agritourists instead. Then they can head over to one of those air conditioned barns and hang with the cows.

Blogger Terry Portillo owns and operates ACU Air Heating and Air Conditioning. in The Woodlands, Texas.

Home Buyer Beware – Refrigerant Top-Off Masks Critical Problem

October 14, 2010

It’s an all too common scenario. You find a house you want to buy and have it inspected. The general inspector recommends that the air conditioning system be serviced so you ask the seller to get this taken care of. The seller calls out an air conditioning technician who determines that the air conditioner is low in refrigerant and charges the system so that it will cool properly. What’s wrong with this picture?

A sound, properly functioning central air conditioner is a hermetically sealed system. It does not consume refrigerant. If a technician has to add refrigerant (commonly known by the brand names Freon [R22] or Puron [R410A]), the system has a leak which will not go away on its own but which will get worse over time.

A small percentage of leaks will be coming from a valve, seal, or gasket which can be inexpensively repaired or replaced. However, the vast majority of the time, the leak will be in the condenser coil or the evaporator coil itself. When this happens the coil or the entire unit will need to be replaced. The only way to know where the system is leaking refrigerant is to have a leak search performed.

What will happen if the seller doesn’t have the leak searched and repaired? If it’s a slow leak, the air conditioning system may hold an adequate charge for a year or two. If it’s a moderate leak, it may hold a charge for several months. Sometimes, if the leak is quite large or if there are multiple leaks, the system could lose the refrigerant in a matter of weeks or even days. It is not only costly to regularly add refrigerant to a leaking system, it is also a violation of EPA regulations. If you buy a house and the air conditioner needs refrigerant, a reputable ac contractor will charge it up once, but afterward he may refuse to add refrigerant again until the leak has been repaired. In most cases, this will mean having the condenser or the evaporator coil replaced.

The possibility that you may have to replace the condenser unit and/or the evaporator coil if you purchase a house with an air conditioner that has been topped-off with refrigerant is not the only problem. When the refrigerant leaks again, the system may run constantly causing either the condenser unit or the evaporator coil to freeze-up. The freezing up and the subsequent defrosting of the evaporator coil (located in the attic) can lead to serious water damage.

If you’re buying a house and the inspector recommends having the ac serviced, ask for a copy of the service invoice. If refrigerant has been added to the system, insist that a leak search be performed and request a quote from the ac company for the repair or the replacement of the equipment required to fix the leak.

Blogger Terry Portillo owns and operates ACU Air Heating and Air Conditioning in The Woodlands, TX.

AC Trivia

September 15, 2010

Burj Dubai

The Burj Dubai – Photo courtesy of Daniel Cheong

The air conditioning system for the Burj Dubai (the tallest building in the world), produces approximately fifty-one million gallons of condensation each year, which is salvaged and pumped into an irrigation system.

In 1881 naval engineers constructed an air conditioner consisting of a fan blowing air across a box of cloths saturated with ice water. It lowered the temperature of a room by 20 degrees. The catch? It consumed half a million pounds of ice in two months time. (Source: Jones Jr., Malcolm. “Air Conditioning”. Newsweek Winter 1997 v130)

During their famous walk on the moon, Neil Armstong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s spacesuits had built in cooling systems utilizing a liquid cooling undergarment. Think one of these suits would come in handy for walking around in the heat of a Texas summer? Think again. On earth the infamous NASA Apollo 11 spacesuit would weigh 180 pounds.

In what film does a hunter come across two-million dollars from a drug deal gone bad and hide it in an ac vent? Answer

Americans use as much energy to power their air conditioners each years as the entire amount of energy consumed by all of Africa.

Blogger Terry Portillo owns and operates ACU Air Heating and Air Conditioning in The Woodlands, TX.

Thanks but no Thanks for the Memory

September 13, 2010

We recently shopped for a new mattress and given how comfortable the memory foam European pillow top mattress was when we stretched out on it in the showroom, the sales clerk had little trouble talking us into a purchase. The first night slept on it, we were hot, and I don’t mean hot in the adult funhouse sense of the word. We tossed, we turned, we sweated, we cast off the comforter and, lying beneath nothing more than a thin, Egyptian cotton sheet, we tossed and turned and sweated some more. Either I had fast forwarded into menopause complete with night sweats and my husband was suffering from sympathetic symptoms or our new mattress was smokin’.

The next morning I did a bit of research and, lo and behold, there was something the sales clerk had not told us. Memory foam operates through heat; your body heats up the foam which, in turn, molds to your body so that there are no uncomfortable pressure points. The catch is these beds ‘sleep hot’. That could be a benefit if you live next door to Sarah Palin and have to shoo Russians out of your yard now and then, but down here in the greater Houston area it’s more of a curse.

Even if your sheets’ thread count is in the quadruple digits, they will never feel crisp and cool if you’re sleeping on memory foam. And if you like to sleep cool, you may soon find yourself cranking the ac down, down, down, while your energy bill goes up up up.

We pawned our brand new bed off on a teenage daughter who loves its vast height and comfiness. She sleeps directly under an ac supply air vent and a ceiling fan and we still have to keep the ac 2 degrees lower than we used to so that she can sleep at night. In the meantime, we dragged our old mattress out of the guestroom, flipped it over – something we had neglected to do the first ten years – found it perfectly cool (yes!) and comfortable and I now look forward to climbing into bed each night .

Thanks, but no thanks, for the memory.

Rasberry Ants Have an Appetite for Electronics

September 8, 2010

Their appetite for electronics exceeds that of the average American teenage boy. They have already launched one attack NASA. Stories about them read more like science fiction than credible journalism. Who, or rather, what are they? Paratrechina species near puben, better known as Crazy Rasberry Ants.

Named after Tom Rasberry, the exterminator who first identified the species (hence the spelling), the rasberry ant invades and devours the electronic components of air conditioning units, security alarms, pool pumps, gas meters, and computers.

Scarcely larger than a flea, the rasberry ant makes up in numbers what it lacks in size. Rasberry ant colonies have multiple queens, with each queen laying up to one million eggs per ant hill per day. According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, infestations can reach fifty million ants per acre during their peak season (June through September). When an infested areas is treated with pesticides, the initial wave of rasberry ants die; then the remaining ants use their dead comrades as a bridge to safely cross the pesticide treated ground.

If your home has suffered an attack from these minute creatures and you’ve found a way to fend them off, let us know. You might want to let the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Department of Agriculture know while you’re at it! They’re still researching the answer to the question, “How do we get rid of these things?”

Make Mine a Double – When It Comes to Swine Flu Two Ounces of Prevention May Be Worth a Pound of Cure

August 6, 2009

With U.S. health officials predicting that up to forty-percent of Americans may become infected with the Swine Flu over the next two years , ACU Air plans to pay for swine flu shots for its employees and their school age children. This will serve the dual purpose of reducing absenteeism during the flu season and will prevent any of our service technicians from unknowingly carrying the virus into customers’ homes.

Immunization against the H1N1 cocktail of human, avian, and pig influenza strains may require two vaccinations. Consequently, ACU Air employees are preparing to roll up their sleeves not once but twice , just as soon as the vaccine hits the streets – most likely sometime in October. The dire forty-percent prediction recently quoted in front page headlines throughout the United States is based on a worse case scenario in which the vaccine is either not ready in time or in which a national vaccine campaign proves unsuccessful. We encourage other employers to pay for their employees’ and their employees’ children’s vaccines so that the forty-percent prediction does not become reality.

Some people have been wondering whether the mechanical air cleaners and UV disinfectant systems ACU Air sells and installs will help to protect their homes and families against H1N1. Not really. The flu virus is spread primarily through close contact with an infected person, especially when that person coughs or sneezes. You can also pick it up by touching an object that has the flu virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. Your best line of defense is to keep your distance from people you know to be infected and to engage in frequent, good old-fashioned hand washing. While it is possible that the virus may spread through an air conditioning system that frequently recycles air in a crowded, confined space (such as the cabin of a plane), the virus is unlikely to survive the journey and be spread through your residential air conditioning and heating system.

We recommend mechanical air cleaners and UV disinfectant systems for removing airborne allergens and for killing mold spores, rather than to halt the spread of infectious diseases in the home. Save your money and spend it on liquid hand soap and hand sanitizers and, of course, the H1N1 vaccine as soon as it becomes available.

Viewing the World Through Green-Colored Glasses

August 2, 2009

In the novel, The Wizard of Oz, everyone was required to don a pair of green tinted glasses before entering Emerald City.

“I am the Guardian of the Gates, and since you demand to see the Great Oz I must take you to his Palace. But first you must put on the spectacles”…. He opened the big box, and Dorothy saw that it was filled with spectacles of every size and shape. All of them had green glasses in them. The Guardian of the Gates found a pair that would just fit Dorothy and put them over her eyes. There were two golden bands fastened to them that passed around the back of her head, where they were locked together by a little key that was at the end of a chain the Guardian of the Gates wore around his neck. When they were on, Dorothy could not take them off had she wished, but of course she did not wish to be blinded by the glare of the Emerald City, so she said nothing.
– L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz

I wonder whether some of our federal government’s green initiatives aren’t like those green glasses visitors were required to wear inside the Emerald City.

One of our work trucks qualifies for what has turned out to be the most popular section of the stimulus package, Cash for Clunkers. I would hardly call the shiny white one-ton pickup which carries air conditioning units and furnaces anywhere and everywhere we ask it to go a clunker. Still the $4,500 credit towards a new vehicle would be far more than we could get for the truck if we sold it. Should we turn it in?

I hesitated to participate in this program, in part, because of my irrational attachment to the cars and trucks I have driven for any length of time. It would make me sad to turn in this truck, which has and continues to serve us so faithfully, to be destroyed. In her article “U-Turn in Cash for Clunkers Causing Whiplash” for The New York Times (August 2, 2009), reporter Katharine Q. Seelye described what happens to the vehicles people turn in. “Nick Clites… took a reporter through the process as he prepped a 1988 BMW 535iS, with 214,000 miles on the odometer, for its death. He drained the oil, then donned a silky blue protective suit, goggles and gloves and poured a sodium silicate solution into the engine. He revved the car, and within a few seconds, the solution hardened, the engine seized up and was kaput. Wreckers were called to pick up the car, remove the spoiled engine and crush the car.”

Irrational attachments aside, I began to question the environmental wisdom of destroying so-called clunkers, many of which may still have quite a few years of life and service left in them. For each car that’s reduced to salvage, a manufacturer gets to sell a brand new car. Would the total amount of extra gas that clunker would have used before it died a natural death (compared to the gas used by a new vehicle with better mileage) been anywhere near as much as the amount of energy expended and greenhouse gases release in the mining and transporting of the resources required to build the car, the manufacturing of the car itself, and the transport of that car to its point of sale? I doubt it.

Furthermore, people who owe nothing on the clunkers they are turning in now find themselves deep in debt on their new cars. Some of these people may have been able to purchased a used car for cash or for a much smaller loan but the temptation to purchase a new car or otherwise lose the ‘free money’ being offered for their clunker was too great to resist. The sad irony in all of this is that dealers may have already accepted more clunkers than the funds allocated by the government will cover. To protect themselves, many dealers have had buyers of new cars under the program sign contracts stating that if the government does not come through with the money for the clunker, the buyer will pay the difference. Want your clunker back? It’s too late. The sodium silicate will have already done its job. You now owe the dealer another $3,500 to $4,500. Have we gone from sub-prime mortgages to sub-prime auto loans?

I am troubled in the same way by the $1,500 tax credit being offered for the purchase an installation of high energy air conditioning systems. To qualify for this credit, the new cooling system must have a SEER rating of 16. To achieve this, the homeowner is not looking at simply replacing one piece of equipment — maybe one which is leaking refrigerant or has locked up or gone to ground and cannot be repaired. No, to qualify for the tax credit, the homeowner will need to replace the entire system – the condensing unit, the evaporator coil, and the furnace – as a two stage furnace is required to achieve the minimum SEER. A new plenum will probably be required as well. There is no doubt that the high efficiency system will use far less energy than the system being replaced. But if all or even some of the equipment being discarded was still functioning properly at the time it was disposed of, will with the energy savings achieved by operating the new system ever make up for the energy that was used to mine the metals, manufacturer the new equipment, and transport it to its point of sale?

Will the earth and its atmosphere benefit in the long run from the auto rebates and ac tax credits? There’s no question the manufacturers and dealers will. Maybe the green they’re seeing isn’t the green of mother earth but the green of cold cash.

Towards the end of The Wizard of Oz , the wizard himself tells Dorothy, “I ordered them to build this City, and my Palace and… then I thought, as the country was so green and beautiful, I would call it the Emerald City; and to make the name fit better I put green spectacles on all the people, so that everything they saw was green.”

“But isn’t everything here green?” asked Dorothy.

“No more than in any other city,” replied Oz; “but when you wear green spectacles, why of course everything you see looks green to you.”


August 1, 2009

After a long drought and two months of triple digit heat, everyone in the Houston area yesterday exclaimed on their cell phones and in text messages, with a joy normally reserved for announcing the birth of a baby or a winning lottery ticket, “It’s raining here! Is it raining where you are?” Yes! We had all won the weather lottery.

The world outside my window is once again green — at least those trees and shrubs which survived the first two months of summer.

For me there is nothing more boring than a string of clear, sunny days. (Okay, maybe a presidential speech simulcast on a dozen stations). Some days I just want to curl up with a good book or watch a DVD or bake cookies. If the sun is shining outdoors, I feel guilty about staying inside to indulge in such frivolous pleasures. A rainy day offers me the perfect excuse. “Of course I would be outside weeding what’s left of my yard or washing my car or walking my dog but…”

This morning, following yesterday’s showers, it was so humid outside we woke up in a submarine world. Condensation coated every single window so that we looked out at the fresh, green yard through a thick film of water. I hummed “We all live in a yellow submarine…” as I snapped on my dogs’ leashes and stepped out into the wild, wet world.