For years in La Habra, we heard about how bad air conditioners were for the environment. Specifically, the liquid used in them to remove heat from air in your home tended to eat holes in the Ozone layer. Today however, air conditioners (along with every other appliance or device that uses refrigerant) have been upgraded to work with newer, better chemicals.
While R-22 refrigerant is still used in devices sold today, it is being gradually phased out. According to the Montreal Protocol, R-22 refrigerant will no longer be allowed in new devices as of January 1, 2020 in the United States (though it can be used to service existing devices via recycled or reused refrigerant). While the most environmentally damaging refrigerants such as HCFC-141b have been removed from the market, R-22 is still considered harmful to the environment if allowed to enter the atmosphere.
So, if R-22 will soon not be permitted (and is not an environmentally friendly option), what is? Currently, the most common refrigerant used in new residential air conditioners is R-410A. After the Clean Air Act was passed, the EPA reviewed a number of refrigerants to determine which were the least damaging to the environment (and human health) and which could be used as alternatives to R-22. At the top of the list is R-410A, a blend of different HFCs that don’t deplete the ozone. Sometimes called Puron, Forane, or Genetron AZ-20, R-410A is a good choice if you’re having a new system installed.
Of course, because R-410A is a hydrofluorocarbon, it does contribute to global warming and therefore is a risk to the environment, albeit in a much smaller capacity than older refrigerants. Recently, the EPA approved the use of HFO-1234yf – a chemical that pollutes 99.7% less than the current refrigerant used in car air conditioners. Whether it will be used in homes and commercial spaces remains to be seen, but the technology is advancing rapidly, allowing us to stay cool without sacrificing our planet’s health and future to do so.
Another alternative is to invest in an evaporative cooling system rather than a traditional air conditioner. These systems use no HFCs at all and therefore have zero impact on the ozone layer or global warming (other than the electricity they consume). They also use 80% less energy than traditional air conditioners. If you live in a dry, low humidity climate they are a great option.