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How to Recharge the Freon in a Commercial Refrigerator or Freezer

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs,) often known as Freon®, and their replacements, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), are being phased out, globally. Consequently, R-22, HCFC-141b, HCFC-142b can no longer be produced or imported into the United States. Freon that has been stockpiled or that is cleaned and recycled, however, may be used to service existing refrigeration units until those supplies are exhausted.

Some older refrigerators and freezers – both free-standing and walk-in units – are still running on Freon® (R-22), or HCFC-142b (aka R142b). Recharging them may be possible for a few more years using stockpiled or recycled coolant. Afterwards, those units must be replaced.

Before topping off coolant levels, there are a few things you need to know.

First, eliminate other possible causes of warming. Clean the cooling vents, defrost the coils, and check the coolant pipes for leaks before assuming insufficient refrigerant is the cause of warmer-than-desired temperatures. Wait at least two days to see if the issue resolves itself.

Also, ascertain whether the unit uses Freon. Virtually none of the refrigeration units made after 2010 use CFCs. Instead, they use hydrofluorocarbons and require different mechanical properties to accommodate the higher pressures the equipment needs. Therefore, coolants are not interchangeable. Check the label on the door to determine the specific coolant used. Be aware that some refrigerators and freezers that used CFCs may have been converted to use HCFCs.

To test Freon levels:

  1. Unplug the unit and open its back panel.
  2. Find the coolant pipe on the compressor tank. Typically, the compressor is near the base of the refrigerator or freezer. The Freon pipe usually is copper. It tends to be the largest of the pipes and/or the insulated pipe. It may be attached to the suction line or be a dedicated pipe, depending on the model and make of the unit. Check the unit’s manual if in doubt.
  3. Install a bullet-piercing valve around the coolant line near the compressor. A bullet-piercing valve is used to check refrigerant levels. It features a needle to pierce the coolant pipe and a gasket that provides significantly more sealing area than O-rings. This valve has two parts.

First, mount the bullet-piercing valve on the bottom side of the top bracket of the saddle valve. Fittings that come with the valve let you tighten it to the pipe on either side of the saddle valve. The needle of the piercing valve should be positioned directly over the opening on the saddle valve. Once mounted, it’s very important that this valve is tight to prevent air or toxic coolant from bleeding out over time.

Next, unscrew the cap on the side of the bullet-piercing valve and install the conversion valve.

  • Turn on the refrigerator/freezer and wait about 15 seconds.
  • To the conversion valve, attach an air compressor gage that is designed for Freon® systems. It lets you read both air pressure and Freon pressure. (This is like gaging tire pressure for tires.) The pressure on the Freon line should read “0.”  If the pressure is above “1,” bleed out some of the air by opening the valve slightly for a few seconds and then retest the system.

To recharge Freon:

  1. You need an EPA certification card to purchase Freon®. Wholesale prices for R-22 in 2021 ranged from about $20 to $50 per pound, depending upon geographic location within the U.S.
  2. Determine how much and what type of Freon you need for your unit, and how much your gauge says remains in the unit. The fill capacity should be listed on the label that is either inside the door or on the back of the refrigerator or freezer.
  3. Contact an HAVC supplier to purchase recycled refrigerant. Supplies also may be available online.
  4. Connect the hose from the Freon® tank you just purchased to the recharge hose on the bullet-piercing valve you just installed. Open the valve on the top of the Freon® tank to recharge the system. (The tank containing the replacement Freon may or may not have a gage.)
  5. When the refrigerator or freezer is filled to the manufacturer’s recommended quantity of coolant, close the bullet-piercing valve and remove the adaptor. Leave the bullet-piercing valve in place. Tighten the screw cap on the Freon tank until it’s firmly closed. Remove the hose from the adaptor and unscrew the adapter from the line. Replace the back panel on the refrigerator or freezer.

Remind your customer that supplies of recycled or stockpiled Freon® will become increasingly scarce. Therefore, they should begin planning to replace the unit with a modern, more efficient, and environmentally-friendly model.

Naturally, you’ll be happy to install it for them when the time is right.