Do Central Air Conditioners Use Freon? How To Tell If Your AC Uses Freon.

Wondering if your central air conditioner uses freon in its system to cool your home?

In general, central air conditioning systems still use freon (R-134a or R410a) to cool your home.  However, from 2010 freon (R12 and R22) were officially banned from being used in new air conditioning systems. The phasing out was expected to be completed by 2020. Any systems manufactured in 2010 and after do not use freon (R12 and R22.)

Before we go any further in our discussion, let’s first find out what freon is and why it has been phased out.

What is Freon and how does it work?

It should be noted that freon is a trademark for some types of refrigerants manufactured by The Chemours Company. That includes the popular r22(HCFC-22) and r12(CFC-12).

The freon in your central air conditioner works by evaporating and condensing over and over again to cool your home.

These two chemical compounds were for decades used as refrigerants before they were formerly banned from the market because of the damage they caused to the ozone layer. Not only that, the two compounds contain chlorine gas which can be toxic if inhaled.  So, there was a need for a cleaner and less toxic gas to replace the popular R12 and R22 freon.

That’s what led to the development of a new ‘freon’ that has been labeled R-410A.

R-410A is known as Puron (though some people still call it freon). It’s less toxic, does not have chlorine gas, and is more environmentally friendly. Besides that, systems that use Puron are known to run more efficiently than ones that use freon.

 They are also more reliable and are known to provide better quality air and more comfort.

How to tell if your system uses freon

Firstly, It’s important to note that different refrigerants can not be mixed or interchanged in your air conditioner system otherwise, your system could be damaged. That’s why it’s important to know what type of refrigerant your system uses. So how can you tell if your specific system uses freon?

In order to tell what refrigerant your system uses, check the label or sticker on your outside condenser unit. Most of the time, you won’t see trademarked names such as freon. The refrigerant is typically labeled by its chemical formula.

R-22 Label (Freon)

And in that case, if your system uses freon, it will be labeled as R22. If you see R-410A then you’ll know it’s Puron. If you see any other chemical compound you are not familiar with, a simple google search should tell you what refrigerant it is.

R-410A Label (Puron)

If you can’t locate the sticker on your unit, you can get help from your local HVAC technician.

They can use their tools to determine if your central air conditioner uses freon or not.

How To Check the Freon in A Home Air Conditioner

If you think your home air conditioner is running low on freon and want to check the level, it’s best to call professionals for help. Professionals have the necessary tools for checking the refrigerant level. That includes pressure gauges.

Unless you are experienced in handling these similar issues yourself. While it can be hard to determine the level of freon in the ac system for a typical homeowner, there are still some signs that can tell you that your ac system is running low on the refrigerant.  Let’s look at these symptoms below.

Symptoms of low freon in central air conditioner

1.       Air conditioner blowing warm air

One of the obvious signs of an air conditioner that is running low on freon is warm air blowing out of vents. That’s because freon is part of the system that takes away heat from your home and transfers it to the outside environment. The absence of freon will stop the ac from working as it should.

However, do not mistake another problem in your ac for a low refrigerant. Other times, a malfunctioning compressor can also be the reason your ac is blowing warm. So, it’s always a good idea to watch out for these other signs we’ll be discussing shortly.

2.       Strange noises from your AC unit

Try turning your ac into heat mode (high-pressure mode) and if you hear bubbling or whistling sounds from your ac unit, chances are there is a leak on the refrigerant lines.

When you hear unusual sounds from your ac unit or lines, don’t ignore them, unusual sounds usually tell you something is wrong somewhere.

 If you believe there is leaking, call HVAC professionals immediately, they have the necessary tools to pinpoint the leaks and can seal them off quickly.

3.       Ice builds up on ac refrigerant lines

Though not always the case, another sign of a low freon charge in your AC system is ice build-up. If you are seeing ice building up on your refrigerant chances are, that there is little or no refrigerant in your air conditioner system.

Low freon levels will cause a drop in pressure which will in turn cause the evaporator coil to cool. When this happens, the moisture in the line will freeze up.

This should not be mistaken for other air conditioner problems that cause the freezing on the ac lines.

4.       Leaking oil

If there is freon leaking from your system, there should also be some oil leaks in the lines. And because ‘freon leaks’ typically occur in the connections, it’s often accompanied by leaking oil.

 Check whether there is some dust accumulating anywhere around the connections, that should be a sign of a leak and ultimately a symptom of low freon level.

How much does an air conditioner freon refill cost?

On Average, air conditioner freon refills cost about $300. However, the cost can depend on many other factors. It’s for this reason that you’ll still need to get an actual quote from your local HVAC service provider.

Some factors that will determine the cost of freon refill include:

1.       Cost of the material used. Technicians use different materials to do their job. These materials include oxygen brazing rods, fittings, acetylene, fittings, oil for the vacuum pump, filter drier, and so on.

2.       Cost of time. The time (labor) spent by your technician to diagnose and repair your ac. The longer it takes, the more the cost.

3.       The cost of freon per pound.

4.       For an older ac unit, you might also bear the cost of retrofitting (newer spares for the smooth running of your system)

That said, it’s not a good idea to try and attempt to refill freon in your air conditioner for the following reasons.

Firstly, you don’t know the source of the problem (leak). That means, even if you manage to do a refill, without sealing off the leaks, freon could still leak out. But a licensed technician should be able to pinpoint and seal off the leaks.

Secondly, there are specific laws that concern the handling of freon gas. That’s why only a licensed Technician is by law required to undertake that job.

How Often Does a Home AC Need to Be Recharged?

Under normal circumstances, air conditioners do not need to get a freon refill. This is because freon runs in a closed system. However, the reality is that your system’s lines can develop leaks between connections and joints because the freon runs under high pressure.

When there is a leak, that is the only time when your system will need a refill. But be sure to talk to professionals about the problem first.


Do central air conditioners need to be recharged?

No. That’s because freon runs in a closed system, your system is designed not to run out of freon. A refill can only be done if there is a leak somewhere within your ac system. Even so, a refill should only be done if the leak is found and sealed off. Otherwise, freon will still leak out.

Can leaking freon make you sick?

A little bit of leaking cannot affect you much, if it goes to the worst, it can make you lightheaded and nauseated. However, excess freon in an unventilated environment will definitely deprive you of oxygen in the blood and can make you pass out.
That said, if you suspect there is freon leak, isolate yourself from the ac system installation and call HVAC professionals for help.

What are the harmful environmental effects of freon?

While Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are stable and generally considered non-toxic, if released into the atmosphere, they are broken down by ultraviolet light and in the process release the chlorine molecules which act as a catalyst to destroy the ozone layer.

Final Thought

In closing, the easiest way to know if your air conditioner uses freon is to check the sticker or label on your outdoor unit.  That said central air conditioners do use freon (refrigerant) to cool your home.

That is because central air conditioners work on the same principle as portable or mini split air conditioners to bring cooling into your home or office.

Finally, we hope that this guide has answered the questions you had on this topic. If you have any specific questions please leave them in the comments below.

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