The short answer to this question is no, but there are many reasons why this is not a great idea for practical, legal, and economic purposes. Refrigerants are a very specific mix of chemicals designed to remove heat from your home. But, there are many manufacturers and different refrigerant mixes, and they don’t play well together. In this article, we will take a detailed look at refrigerants and explain why they shouldn’t be mixed together.
CFC (Chlorofluorocarbons) Refrigerants
The CFC refrigerants used here, such as the R-22, are the most popular option by a large margin. As the name suggests, these refrigerants contain chlorine, fluorine, and carbon. Another common type of refrigerant is HCFC. It’s occasionally used to replace CFC, and it contains the same chemicals, but HCFC has an additional hydrogen atom. Every HCFC will have a mixture of different HCFC refrigerants that are designed to mimic the same characteristics of R-22. The HCFC refrigerants work adequately inside a closed system with no other refrigerant types or contaminants present. But HCFC should not be used to “top off” an HVAC system that’s low on refrigerant.
The R-22 Phasing Out Issue
Scientists found that R-22 depletes the ozone layer. In response, the production and importation of this refrigerant were limited back in 2010. According to the EPA from this year, R-22 will not be produced or imported at all. From 2021 onwards, the only supplies of R-22 will be from reclaimed or stockpiled sources. So, if you have an air conditioning system that uses R-22 you need to be informed about servicing, repair, and replacement issues. When refrigerant levels in your system run low, it’s likely that R-22 will become more expensive because the stock will be limited. When you’re working with any contractor, it’s important to ensure that they are checking for leaks and sealing them before they top off your refrigerant. Also, check the refrigerant that will be using in your HVAC system because you don’t want refrigerant mixing.
The Negative Consequences of Refrigerant Mixing
When refrigerants are mixed, the operating temperatures and pressures are changed for the worse. Different refrigerant types are not designed to work together. Any refrigerant charge has to be optimized to work with the associated pressure temperature chart. But, if you mix R-22 with an alternate refrigerant, there is no associated pressure temperature chart to use as a reference. So, you cannot optimize the system charge, and this will lead to overheating and a reduction in the efficiency and the lifetime of the charge.
Another problem is the unpredictability and the chance of creating an extreme change in the refrigerant efficiency. Most R-22 based refrigerants are not as efficient as other types on the market, and when they are mixed, this is even more noticeable. When an air conditioning system is using refrigerant that is inefficient, the system will be more inefficient. This will inevitably lead to increased energy costs because the equipment will have to work harder to cool your home.
When an air conditioner is operating inefficiently, it is more prone to damage. The temperatures and pressures are unpredictable and proper oil cannot return to the compressor unit. This can lead to a system failure. There are five main problems to consider, they are:
- A reduction in cooling capacity.
- Damage to the compressor unit.
- A lack of sufficient oil to the compressor.
- A lack of cooling for the compressor.
- A negative environmental impact.
Are There Legal Consequences?
Let’s be honest. You’re not likely to get raided by the EPA if you mix refrigerants in your home. But, mixing refrigerants is bad for your air conditioning system and the environment. There are likely to be unscrupulous technicians and contractors that are mixing refrigerants to replace dwindling stocks of R-22. Some refrigerants can be reclaimed and reused, but eventually, even these supplies will be exhausted. If mixed refrigerants are discovered, the contractor is supposed to turn them over to a parts house. They then send it to a disposal company where the mixed refrigerant is incinerated.
Why Do Some Contractors Mix Refrigerants?
It all comes down to money; a 30lb jug of R-22 could cost as much as 3-4 times more than an appropriate replacement. But, those savings are not passed on to the customer, and there is no benefit to your air conditioning equipment or the environment. Some poorly trained technicians may not understand the ramifications of mixing refrigerants, and this is why it’s important to deal with a high quality HVAC contractor. If an entire refrigerant is required, the air conditioning system must be recovered and evacuated first. This is fairly common during those hotter summer months when cooling is a priority. If a contractor takes shortcuts, the performance and efficiency will suffer, and the chances of a failure are increased. The last thing you need is an equipment failure in the middle of summer.
Are All Refrigerant Replacements Flawed?
No, replacement refrigerants are fine, but they cannot be mixed with other types of refrigerants. Before you make the decision to replace your refrigerant take some time to consider your options. The most important thing to remember is that your system must be free of any other refrigerants and contaminants before you go ahead. This goes for R-22 and any other type of refrigerants currently on the market. A less scrupulous HVAC contractor will suffer legal consequences if they are found to be mixing refrigerants. If the customer finds out that a contractor is engaging in refrigerant mixing, they should avoid using that contractor entirely. An HVAC system is a significant investment, and it makes sense to protect your heating and cooling equipment.
If you’re concerned about the refrigerant levels in your air conditioning system, contact a local HVAC specialist for expert help and advice. They will handle your refrigerant recharging needs in a safe and effective way to boost your performance and improve the operating efficiency. This is the best way to keep your home cool without breaking the bank.