Heat pumps are one of the best options for both cooling and heating your home, and they work especially well in warmer climates like California. Compared to furnaces or other electric heating sources, a heat pump is much more efficient and will use far less energy. One common question we are frequently asked is whether heat pumps use Freon, and the answer to this depends on the age of the unit. Just like air conditioners, all heat pumps use refrigerant. Older units may still use Freon, but all new heat pumps instead use a different type of refrigerant as Freon has been outlawed for more than a decade.
Why Is Freon No Longer Used?
For many decades, all air conditioners and heat pumps relied on R-22 refrigerant, more commonly known by its brand name Freon. However, that began to change in 1992 when the US Environmental Protection Agency updated the Clean Air Act. As part of this act, the government began making plans to eventually phase out Freon.
Beginning in 2010, all new air conditioners and heat pumps are required to use less harmful refrigerants, the most common of which is R-410A, or Puron. This means that any unit installed after January 1, 2010, does not use Freon. Many older units still do, however.
Although all new equipment could no longer use Freon after 2010, the phase-out was still gradual and took place over 10 years. During this period, Freon could still be manufactured and imported to the US. The US completely banned the manufacturing and importation of Freon for use in HVAC units at the beginning of 2020.
Freon can still be used legally to recharge old units. Since the manufacturing of it is banned, any Freon that is used must be reclaimed and recycled from other sources. The fact that Freon can no longer be produced means that there is a limited supply, which has made the price of Freon skyrocket. For this reason, we highly recommend replacing any old heat pump or air conditioner that still uses Freon. After all, the lifespan of most heat pumps is around 15 years. This means that any units that do still use Freon will likely need to be replaced soon.
The reason that Freon was outlawed was to help protect against further damage to the ozone layer. Freon is a type of chemical compound known as a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), and HCFCs are among the most powerful ozone-depleting chemicals known to man. As part of the 1987 Montreal Protocol, the U.S. and every other country on the planet pledged to begin phasing out the use of Freon and all HCFCs in an effort to prevent further ozone depletion.
R-410A and other refrigerants belong to a class of chemical compounds known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). While these compounds are still extremely effective at transferring heat, they do not have any properties that damage the ozone layer. That being said, R-410A is still an extremely powerful greenhouse gas that directly contributes to climate change. For this reason, the EPA has also announced plans to begin phasing out R-410A just as it did with Freon.
This phase-out is set to begin on January 1, 2023. From that time, all new heat pumps and air conditioners will no longer be able to use R-410A and must instead use some other less harmful refrigerant. As with the Freon phase-out, the process is planned to take 10 years, and the manufacturing and import of R-410A will be banned in the US beginning in 2033.
How Does Refrigerant Work in a Heat Pump?
No matter whether it is Freon, R-410A, or any other refrigerant, they all work in the same way. The purpose of refrigerant is to absorb heat from the air and transfer it to another location either inside or outside of the building.
When cooling, a heat pump works just like any other air conditioner. The process starts by sending the refrigerant through a compressor. Compressing the refrigerant reduces its pressure and turns it from a gas into a liquid. This process also causes the refrigerant to become extremely cold. The heat pump then sends this cold refrigerant through a copper line to the evaporator coil inside the building.
The HVAC blower draws hot air from inside the building into the ductwork through the return air vents. This hot air is circulated into the air handler where the evaporator coil is located. Since the refrigerant is colder than the air, heat energy naturally flows from the air into the refrigerant. Removing the heat energy cools the air, and the cold air is then circulated back out into the building through all of the supply vents.
This heat transfer process raises the temperature of the refrigerant, which increases its pressure and turns it back into a gas. The system is constantly working in a loop with cold refrigerant flowing to the evaporator coil and hot gas refrigerant flowing back out to the heat pump. From there, the refrigerant flows into the condenser coil where most of the heat is dispersed back into the air outside. Finally, the refrigerant flows back into the compressor, and the process continues until the system has cooled the home to whatever temperature the thermostat is set to.
The difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner is that the heat pump can reverse the flow of the refrigerant and the heat transfer process to also provide heating during the winter. The process works in basically the same way, just in the opposite direction.
When heating, the refrigerant is used to capture heat energy from the air outside and transfer it to the air inside the building. The heat pump first compresses the refrigerant to make it much colder than the outdoor air temperature. This allows heat energy in the outdoor air to flow into the refrigerant.
The refrigerant flows into the coil in the heat pump where it captures heat energy from the air. Once the refrigerant has absorbed sufficient heat, it flows through an expansion valve. This instantly decreases the pressure of the refrigerant, turning it into a gas and further raising its temperature.
Hot refrigerant is then pumped into the indoor coil inside the air handler. The HVAC blower draws cold air into the system and forces it over the coil. Since the refrigerant is much hotter than the air, the heat energy naturally flows back out of the refrigerant and heats the air. The hot air is then circulated throughout the home to raise the indoor temperature.
Expert HVAC Services in Los Angeles County
At Temp Air System Inc., we are Los Angeles County’s heat pump experts. We install new heat pump units, and our team also repairs and maintains all brands of heat pumps. Temp Air System Inc. also installs and works on air conditioners, furnaces, and all other types of heating and cooling equipment. Our team also specializes in indoor air quality services and installs and services air purifiers, whole-home air filtration systems, ventilation systems, and UV lights. In addition, we install and service water heaters and offer a range of electrical services for customers in La Puente and throughout Los Angeles County. For more information on heat pumps or to schedule any HVAC service, contact Temp Air System Inc. today.