If your central air conditioner is more than 10 years old, you may be considering replacing the entire system. One key factor to be aware of is that federal regulations have mandated changes in the refrigerant used for air conditioning over the past few decades. Here’s a guide to the refrigerant transition and what it means for your air conditioning replacement.

What is a Refrigerant?

The refrigerant is the compound that circulates through an air conditioner to cool your home. It absorbs heat from indoor air and moves it outdoors. Older refrigerants like R-22 are being phased out due to their ozone depletion potential.

The Shift from R-22 to R-410A

R-22, also known by the brand name Freon, was the most common refrigerant in central air conditioning units for decades. However, starting in 2010, regulations prohibited using R-22 in new air conditioning equipment. The air conditioning replacement is R-410A which has much lower environmental impact.

Checking Your Current Refrigerant

If you have an older AC unit, it likely uses the R-22 refrigerant which is now being discontinued. Check the information plate on your outdoor condenser to see the refrigerant type. You may also have an existing refrigerant certificate from past work detailing what is in your A/C system.

Why Refrigerant Matters for Replacement?

When it comes time to replace your aging air conditioner, the type of refrigerant it uses has implications. New A/C units use R-410A refrigerant which operates at higher pressure than R-22 systems. The components are designed specifically for one refrigerant or the other.

Retrofitting vs. Full Air Conditioning Replacement

Some contractors may offer to retrofit your old AC unit to work with the new R-410A refrigerant. However, this usually only has short-term cost savings. Industry experts recommend not retrofitting and instead replacing the entire outdated system for optimal performance and energy efficiency.

New Code Requirements

When replacing an AC unit, new building codes also come into play. Upgraded wiring, circuit breakers, drain pans, and other components may be required during replacement due to code changes since your old unit was installed.

Finding a Reputable AC Company

Make sure to get quotes from several highly-rated local contractors. Ask lots of questions about their experience, licensing, services, refrigerant handling, and overall replacement process. Avoid companies that pressure you or only offer quick fixes.

Proper Refrigerant Handling

Reclaiming the old R-22 refrigerant and adding new R-410A requires special care, training and equipment. Ensure your contractor follows mandated procedures for capturing and recycling outdated refrigerants.

Cost Considerations

While R-22 is still available for servicing existing units, prices have risen sharply due to limited supply. Recharging an R-22 system can be very costly compared to R-410A models. This is another reason why replacement often makes more financial sense.

Energy Efficiency Upgrades

Upgrading to a new air conditioner promises substantial energy efficiency gains, leading to consistent monthly savings on your electric bills. To optimize these savings, it’s advisable to simultaneously improve insulation, windows, and ductwork. Additionally, numerous utility companies offer rebates for high-efficiency AC units, further enhancing cost-effectiveness. This comprehensive approach not only ensures a more energy-efficient and comfortable living environment but also financially benefits you in the long run, aligning with eco-friendly practices while lowering your utility expenses.


It is recommended to choose a replacement unit with an extended warranty of 10 years or more for the compressor and 5-year warranty for parts. This safeguards your investment in case of premature part failures.

The phase-out of R-22 refrigerant means it’s nearly time to replace older A/C units with new high-efficiency models. Work with an experienced local contractor to make the refrigerant transition smoothly when you replace your air conditioner. With proper AC installation and care, your new system will keep you comfortable for years to come.

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