A few years ago we announced that the government was changing their refrigerant standards for residential central air conditioners. In short, they required that the most common refrigerant, R-22 (which also happens to be harmful to the environment) be phased out and eliminated from use by the year 2020. This regulation also required air conditioning manufacturers to cease the shipment of R-22 refrigerant with any newly-produced air conditioning systems. When you buy a new air conditioner these days it will most likely contain the more environmentally-friendly R-410A refrigerant or a legal alternative. Although, some manufacturers have made available new ACs called ‘dry charge’ systems, designed for R-22 refrigerant, but instead of shipping with the refrigerant inside, the refrigerant is added on-site by the contractor during installation.
The new refrigerant policies have put many homeowners and HVAC contractors alike in a unique predicament. The situation raises significant questions about the best solution when an AC problem or AC repair is needed: should the homeowner pay the high price to recharge their system with R-22 refrigerant, or attempt to use an alternate refrigerant, or buy a new air conditioner altogether? When buying a new air conditioning system, should the homeowner buy a new R-410A refrigerant system or risk buying a "dry-charge" system? The latter is often the lower-cost solution in the short term, but longer-term, repercussions of that choice are becoming clearer; no new R-22 refrigerant will be produced after the year 2019… which as we get closer to that date, will continue to cause the cost of R-22 to exponentially skyrocket. Still, that deadline is several years away, and the average life-span of many home air conditioners is 8-15 years.
We always make recommendations for a homeowner based on their specific situation, since every home, homeowner and their family is very different. To help clearly consider the options we’ve put together this list of frequently asked questions regarding these issues. We hope these FAQs will help you understand fully how the R-22 phase-out will affect your decision-making, and help you ensure your HVAC contractor is really providing recommendations that are truly in your best interest. For more information or specific questions on your home, call us at 1-866-EXPERTS (1-866-397-3787)
and we will be happy to schedule a free in-home consultation for you.
How do I know if my current air conditioner uses R-22 refrigerant?
Most air conditioners have a nameplate on the unit that identifies the type of refrigerant it contains, plus other information like as safety certifications and electrical ratings. For a central air conditioner, the nameplate is usually on the outdoor unit. If a nameplate is not provided, there are several other ways that you may be able to obtain the information, including the owner’s manual and by contacting the company that sold or services the air conditioner. They would likely know what refrigerant it uses. If you know the manufacturer and model number, you could also call the manufacturer or check their web site for more information.
Why does it cost so much more to service my home’s air conditioner now?
In some instances the service or repair of your home’s AC requires the addition or replacement of refrigerant. Refrigerant is the chemical that makes cooling your home possible. The cost of new R-22 refrigerant has increased dramatically over the past 12 months because this particular refrigerant is being phased out of production by the US EPA.
Why is the R-22 refrigerant being phased out of production?
R-22 has been the refrigerant of choice for residential heat pump and air conditioning systems for more than four decades. Unfortunately for the environment, releases of R-22, often from leaks, contributes to ozone depletion. R-22 is a greenhouse gas, and the manufacture of R-22 also results in by-products that contribute to global warming.
What is the time frame for the R-22 phase-out and how much longer will R-22 be available for my AC?
The US EPA has already limited the allowed production of R-22 significantly, and as the supply of new R-22 has been reduced the cost has increased dramatically. The EPA is expected to continue to reduce new R-22 production until 2020. After 2020, no new production will be allowed and the servicing of R-22 based AC’s will rely solely on recycled or reclaimed refrigerants. It is expected that reclamation and recycling will ensure that existing supplies of R-22 will be sufficient for servicing of existing systems, albeit at a much higher service cost.
Do homeowners have to stop using air conditioners that operate with R-22 Refrigerant?
No. Homeowners are not be required to stop using AC’s or heat pumps with R-22 and they are not required to replace existing equipment just to switch to a new, more environmentally friendly refrigerant. The lengthy phase-out period provides some time to switch to ozone-friendly refrigerants when you normally would replace the air-conditioner or heat pump. But, as supplies of R-22 become scarcer, the price of R-22 will continue to increase dramatically, causing service cost to escalate. Starting in 2020, new R-22 will no longer be produced. Homeowners will need to rely solely on recycled or reclaimed quantities of R-22 refrigerant in order to service any systems still in use.
Are there approved replacements for R-22 that are more cost effective for needed repairs?
Yes, there are alternative replacement refrigerants for R-22. So called “drop-in” replacement refrigerants are being marketed for use in service of existing R-22 AC or heat pumps, however many of these substitute refrigerants will not work well without making some changes to system components. Additionally most manufacturers have not approved the use of drop-in refrigerants due to ongoing concerns about the compatibility and impact to system reliability. As a result, HVAC service technicians who repair leaks or service to the system will most often continue to use the native R-22 refrigerant for the repair.
New air conditioning systems now use a more environmentally friendly refrigerant, R410A. Because R410 is a completely different refrigerant it cannot be mixed with or used in an existing AC or heat pumps designed for R-22. When a new R410A unit is installed both the outdoor unit and indoor coil must be replaced, and the interconnecting refrigerant tubing must also be inspected.
Will using R-22 alternative products void the manufacturer’s warranty on the air conditioner?
Yes. Most HVAC manufacturers have not authorized the use of any R-22 “drop-in” alternative refrigerants and have stated their use will void any existing warranty.
What options are available to homeowners who need service on an air conditioner that operates with R-22?
The use of these “drop-in” refrigerants is strongly discouraged, particularly if the AC or heat pump is still under the manufacturer’s warranty, which in some cases can be 10 years from the original installation. For homeowners with AC or heat pump systems older than 10 years and nearing the end of their life-span, another option is to replace the entire system with one that uses the more environmentally-friendly R-410A. Newer systems are by far more energy efficient and can significantly save on energy costs, sound pollution, and can even utilize solar or hybrid power as an energy source.
If I choose to replace my outdoor A/C or heat pump unit with a new unit that uses the more environmentally friendly R410A, do I also have to replace the indoor unit?
Because R410 is a completely different refrigerant it cannot be mixed or used in an existing AC or heat pumps designed for R-22. When a new R410A unit is installed both the outdoor unit and indoor coil must be replaced, and the interconnecting refrigerant tubing must also be inspected. The indoor air handling or furnace may not need to be replaced, but it’s sometimes more cost effective or necessary to replace the both the indoor coil and air handling unit or furnace.
Should I buy a new “Dry Charge” air conditioning system?
That depends on a variety of factors. The best approach is first learn about what types of HVAC equipment the heating and air conditioning industry has to offer and seek solutions to meet your personal comfort, efficiency and lifestyle needs. Take time to understand the benefits and difference between a dry charge unit and a new air conditioning system with R-410A refrigerant.
Why would I buy a R-410A refrigerant system?
Current R-410A systems offer benefits to homeowners that Dry Charge units do not. Some of the benefits include:
- Greater energy efficiency for reduced cost of comfort
- Leading technology to reduce humidity and further increase in home comfort
- Current production refrigerant solutions ensuring longer life and extended availability of refrigerant
- Longer warranty periods for even greater peace of mind
- Quieter operation for a more peaceful indoor environment
- Ozone friendly refrigerant for lower impact on the environment
- Matched coil solutions for increased reliability and guaranteed cooling and heating performance
Is it legal to install Dry Charge units?
Yes. There are no Federal laws or legal restriction on the installation of R-22 or Dry Charge Equipment, as long as it is as a repair for an existing system.
Do new dry charge air conditioning systems have a normal warranty?
Most manufacturers have established a standard 5 year parts warranty on dry charge units. While this provides industry standard protection on the components it does not provide protection against R-22 refrigerant prices, which are expected to continue to increase dramatically.