Freon in AC – Everything You Need to Know About

Freon is one of the most well-known refrigerants out there. But in 2020 it became illegal to produce this substance in the United States. 

Freon is a colorless and odorless chemical that is still used nowadays in a lot of AC units that have been manufactured before 2010. This refrigerant is being phased out as it contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer, and old HVAC systems can be recharged only with recovered or recycled freon.

How much does freon cost at the moment and what will happen if your cooling unit runs out of this refrigerant? Let’s find out!

What Is Freon AC?

Back in 1931, a company that led the refrigerant-inventing industry introduced FREON 12. Very soon, the word ‘Freon’ became a trading name for the majority of the refrigerants that were sold by this company (DuPont).

Even nowadays a lot of people refer to any type of refrigerant as ‘freon’, but the truth is that, in general, only R-22 refrigerant is the real freon. It is a colorless, odorless gas or liquid that contains fluorine and carbon, as well as hydrogen, bromine, or chlorine.

Where Is Freon Located in AC?

Freon circulates in an air-conditioning system through a series of refrigerant lines. Without this substance, ACs wouldn’t be able to cool our homes. While the refrigerant travels through the system, it undergoes plenty of transformations. 

The system’s compressor compresses the gaseous freon making it very hot. After that, the chemical travels through the unit’s coils and releases the absorbed heat. As the substance cools down, it turns into a liquid. The refrigerant then gets to the evaporators that convert it back into a gas, and the cycle starts all over again. 

Your AC most likely has freon, if it has been manufactured before 2010. Look at the label on your unit – if it says ‘R-22’ or ‘HCFC-22’, then your cooling system features freon. 

Read: Does Closing AC Vents Save Electricity?

How Much Does Freon Cost for AC Unit?

You can expect to pay up to $150 for a pound of freon. This includes both, materials and labor.

Do bear in mind that freon costs are constantly rising as this refrigerant is not being manufactured any longer.

Why Is AC Freon So Expensive?

The production and import of freon are illegal nowadays, but the systems that are already charged with this refrigerant can continue using it. 

Because of that the demand for freon still remains relatively high, but the supply is extremely low – and that is exactly what caused the prices to skyrocket. 

By the way, a great portion of the freon that you can buy today is ‘reclaimed’; this means that the refrigerant was extracted from an older system and is now being sold to you.

Read: Are HVAC Service Plans Worth It?

What Does Freon Smell Like?

In general, freon does not have a smell. But in high concentrations, the refrigerant might have a slightly sweet aroma (or a smell of freshly cut grass).

Is AC Freon Liquid or Gas?

Freon can easily change from liquid to gas and then back again. In fact, this is the substance’s exact feature that allows it to cool our houses by absorbing heat.

When it comes to recharging, pure refrigerants, like freon, can be put in the air conditioner as either gas or liquid.

Is Freon Still Used?

Freon is still used in air-conditioning equipment. If your unit has been manufactured before 2010, the chances are high that it’s using freon.

Recovered or recycled freon can be purchased nowadays, though the prices are getting higher and higher every year and the availability is extremely limited. 

How Do I Know If My AC Needs Freon?

First of all, you should figure out if your AC is charged with freon or another refrigerant. Consult the owner’s manual or find a label on the actual unit to find the necessary information (if your air conditioner is over 12 years old, then it might still be using freon).

Even though refrigerant does not get used during the operation of the AC unit, you might have to refill the equipment with freon if it had developed a leak.

Your unit needs freon if:

  • The air conditioner is constantly running but is failing to cool the house
  • The air coming from the vents is not cold
  • Your energy bills have recently become abnormally high
  • The coils are frozen
  • You can hear a hissing or bubbling sound when the AC is operating

What Happens When AC Runs Out of Freon?

When the cooling equipment runs out of freon, it is no longer able to absorb the heat from the indoor air. This means that the system will fail to cool your house.

Is It OK to Run AC Without Freon?

You might still be able to turn your air conditioner on, even if it doesn’t have any freon in it. But you should never do that due to the following reasons:

  • Without freon, the cooling equipment won’t be able to reach the set temperature which means that the unit would have to run constantly. This will lead to extremely high energy bills.
  • Constant operation and lack of refrigerant can put too much strain on the system’s components and cause damage to the equipment or even a full system breakdown.
  • If there is not enough freon in the system, it usually means that your unit has developed a leak. Freon leaks can be dangerous for your health, so taking care of the problem as soon as possible is advised. 

Read: How To Do Air Balancing HVAC In A House?

How Do I Check Freon Level?

Your freon levels are low if you can hear a hissing sound when the unit is running

You can also check whether or not your AC has a leak by putting a mixture of water and soap on the places where you think there might be a leak. If the soap starts bubbling, then freon is leaking.

If you are a relatively experienced DIYer, you can check freon levels with a gauge.

Can I Add Freon to My AC Unit Myself?

You shouldn’t recharge your air conditioner yourself. Not only freon but also any other refrigerant can be dangerous to you and the environment.

You would have to invite a certified technician to recharge your home’s HVAC system

Read: Is Closing Vents Bad For HVAC?

How Long Does Freon Last in an AC Unit?

If your air-conditioning system is properly sealed, then freon can last forever. Unlike gas in a car, for example, the substance does not get used up during operation.

How Often Does Freon Need to Be Replaced?

If the system works properly, then the freon in your cooling unit would never have to be replaced. In fact, when the actual air conditioner breaks down due to general wear and tear, the refrigerant can be extracted and then reused in another system.

The only case when you might need to recharge the cooling system is if your unit develops a refrigerant leak. 

Read: How To Remove And Replace Attic Insulation That Fell Off?

How Common Are Freon Leaks?

Freon leaks are not common, but they can happen. Improper installment, metal corrosion, factory defects, and wear and tear can eventually cause your system to start leaking freon.

In the majority of cases, a leak will occur in the evaporator coil. Though, at times, leaks can also be found at the weld joints, valve cores, and ‘U’ connectors.

Can AC Lose Freon Without a Leak?

Freon is very stable. It does not break down over time and it does not get used up in the air-conditioning system. So, it is impossible for your AC to lose the refrigerant without a leak

Can I Stay in a House with Freon Leak?

Ideally, you would want to leave the house until the issue gets resolved. 

Mild exposure to freon can cause:

  • Headaches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Skin irritation

Major exposure can make you lose consciousness in as little as 5-10 minutes.

Conclusion

Freon has been one of the most popular refrigerants until 2010 when its production was banned. 

Nowadays, AC units charged with freon are still widely used, but the availability of this refrigerant is extremely limited.