What Will Happen to R22 and How it Affects You

If your air conditioner was installed before 2010 and you don’t know what R22 is then you should probably learn. R22 refrigerant is a chemical that keeps the air coming from your air conditioning system cool, so it’s undoubtedly incredibly important. Most air conditioning units older than 10 years use an AC refrigerant called R22 that’s commonly known as Freon*, and is referred to by the EPA as HCFC-22. In this article, we’ll use the name R22. This refrigerant was introduced in the 1950s and became the predominant AC refrigerant in the residential heating and cooling industry.

The Montreal Protocol

Fast forward a few decades and the world realized that R22 refrigerant was aiding in the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer. Not cool. So, the U.S. EPA, in cooperation with other agencies and groups around the world, began a phase out of many ozone-depleting agents as part of an international agreement known as the Montreal Protocol. The regulation lists many HCFCs and CFCs (different types of refrigerants that deplete the ozone layer), but R22 is considered one of the worst offenders.

Timeline and R22 phase out progress in 2018

In 2003, the phase out of R22 production and imports began. By the start of 2010 the production and import of R22 became prohibited. However, servicing current, existing equipment is still allowed as long as there is an available supply of R22. To guarantee the public’s compliance with the new law, all sales of R22 must be purchased by a certified technician R22 refrigerant will be available to service existing air conditioners after 2020.

Chart depicting the percent of R-22 consumption allowance from 2009 to 2019
The graph above shows the EPA’s consumption allowance of R22 by percentage. The limits on R22 consumption were implemented in 2010 and follow a declining trend until 2020.

So how does this affect prices?

If you’re thinking that this sounds like a great case study for an economics professor teaching supply and demand, then you are on the right track. As you can imagine, older air conditioners more often have leaks and need repairs. Any units that are older than 2010 are more likely to use R22, which means there’s a lot more demand for it, and a very limited supply. Prices have only gone up due to scarcity.

Recall that in order to purchase R22, you’ll need to be an EPA-certified technician. So, the average homeowner is unable to purchase a cylinder themselves. In addition, there are some strict regulations now on how refrigerant should be reclaimed and recycled, which adds to the cost. This cost is passed on to the homeowner as companies are forced to cover the increased overhead related to R22 repairs. There are requirements for importing, labeling, record keeping, reporting, destruction and reclaiming of R22 from existing systems.

So, how will this affect you?

The cost of R22 is dramatically increasing because of the dwindling supply, and new refrigerant will no longer be available for use at all after 2020, except from recycled quantities.

If you’re thinking, “Holy cow, this is starting to sound expensive,” you’re right, it is. This is why when our technicians come out to inspect your unit we check to see what refrigerant your unit uses, and in many cases, we’ll recommend an upgrade due to the increasing cost of maintaining an R22 air conditioner.

How do I know if my unit uses R22?

If you have an air conditioning system that was built before 2010, your AC will probably have R22. However, if you installed your air conditioner after January 1, 2010, then your system may not have R22. You can see the type of refrigerant your system runs on by checking the appliance’s nameplate. This nameplate is usually found on the outdoor condenser of your central air conditioning system. If you can’t find it, you can check your user’s manual. Alternatively, you can call your local Service Experts center. If you have a maintenance agreement with us, we also have your information on hand and a tech can let you know immediately if your unit uses R22.

Instead of Freon, use Puron

The industry has made the switch from R22 to R410a, which you may know by the brand name Puron. For the rest of this article, we’ll use the name R410a (although Puron is a well-known brand, there are other companies that make R410a). There are some serious benefits to switching from an R22 air conditioning unit to one that uses R410a. It has a higher safety rating tests than R22.

The truth about “drop-ins” is that there is no “drop-in” solution where you simply swap out the refrigerant.

You may have heard of “drop-in” replacements for R22. We strongly recommend against this option. Usually a homeowner who is concerned about the cost of replacing their unit seeks out an alternative, and this sounds like an easy solution. It often costs the homeowner more money, and virtually always voids the manufacturer warranty. The truth about “drop-ins” is that there is no “drop-in” solution where you simply swap out the refrigerant. The phrase “drop-in” is referring to retrofitting a unit, which when done properly can cost the homeowner as much, or more, money than installing a new unit that uses R410a. In part, this is because different refrigerants operate at different pressure levels and require different parts to run, which forces the technician to replace the most expensive components of your system to be compatible with the new refrigerant. If this crucial step is skipped, your system will quickly stop working, and you’ll be forced to install a new unit anyway. If you are insistent on exploring this option, then consult with an HVAC professional to determine your best option.

Your manufacturer will probably not pay for the parts to make this transition because retrofitting your AC system will likely void the warranty. It’s usually just a temporary fix, but buying a new upgraded AC system will probably benefit most homeowners in dependability, satisfaction, and long-term comfort.

It’s better to discuss pricing options with your HVAC provider if you’re worried about cost. At Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning, we have financing available that makes a replacement affordable, and we keep track of any manufacturer and utility rebates that would make it easier to swallow an unexpected replacement. To avoid an emergency on a hot day, many of our customers choose to do a pre-emptive replacement, and replace an old AC before it breaks down. If you’re of a similar mind, then you’re in good company!

If your unit was built after 2010, you’re probably safe

If your heating and air conditioning system was built after January 2010, the R22 phase out dilemma may not apply to you, because it’s likely that your system uses the new, approved replacement refrigerant, R410a. However, units installed after 2010 could still use R22, so it’s best to check with an HVAC Expert. You can always check for this and the refrigerant type by checking the nameplate on your condenser (the condenser is the outside unit).

Lennox air conditioner with refrigerant type on label

What do I do if my air conditioner uses R22?

To recap, if your HVAC equipment was produced prior to January 2010, particularly if it’s older than a decade, you have a few options:

  1. Purchase an upgraded, more environmentally-friendly system that uses R410a.
  1. Call an expert to replace the parts in your current AC system to help make it compatible with an approved air conditioner refrigerant. This is not recommended.
  1. Stick with using recycled R22 and burn money like it’s the ozone layer.

To be clear, the EPA regulates the production and use of this refrigerant, but not your AC. You aren’t required by law to replace your air conditioner. Eventually, your AC will stop working and it will need to be replaced, and only R410a units will be available for sale.

The most straightforward option is to purchase a new, upgraded air conditioner, particularly if your current air conditioner is already more than 10 years old. Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning has several financing options that help make the purchase affordable, and again, we look out for rebates from HVAC manufacturers and local utilities to make it easier on you. New AC equipment will also be more efficient and give you superior comfort, helping to lower your energy costs.

You could also choose the status quo and continue using recycled R22 air conditioning refrigerant for the foreseeable future. While this sounds like a great alternative, the cost of servicing old R22 A/C systems is starting to exceed several hundred dollars (easily a down payment on a new system). You may also see the prices climb as demand continues to rise on a substance that is no longer produced or widely available.

If you aren’t sure what type of AC refrigerant your air conditioning system uses, we can help. Call Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing today and we can provide an inspection to confirm if you are currently using R22 and, if so, which option works best for you.

The good news

While making the switch to an approved AC refrigerant may be frustrating, it’s helping to save the ozone layer. These regulations will help protect the ozone layer in the Earth’s atmosphere, which helps block radiation from the sun and prevents serious illnesses, such as skin cancer. It’s not far-fetched to say that you, as a homeowner, are a big part of this by replacing an old R22 unit with a newer, ozone friendly unit.

If you have any questions, please contact us for a free, in-home consultation by filling out the form below.

*Freon is a registered trademark of the DuPont Corporation

Sources:
1.https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2013/12/24/2013-29817/protection-of-stratospheric-ozone-adjustments-to-the-allowance-system-for-controlling-hcfc

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