Updated: June 14, 2018
If your air conditioner was installed before 2010 and you don’t know what R22 is then you should probably read up. R22 refrigerant is a chemical that keeps the air coming from your air conditioning system cool, so it’s certainly incredibly important. Most air conditioning units older than 10 years have an AC refrigerant called R22 that’s commonly recognized as Freon*, and is stated 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
Moving ahead a few decades the world realized that R22 refrigerant was aiding in the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer. That’s not great. So, the U.S. EPA, in cooperation with other agencies and groups around the world, initiated a phase out of lots of 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 beginning of 2010 the production and import of R22 decreased. However, servicing current, existing equipment is still acceptable if there is an available supply of R22. To ensure the public’s compliance with the new law, all sales of R22 must be purchased by a certified technician. The production and import of R22 will be continually reduced by law until 2020, when all production and import will be banned. Only recycled R22 refrigerant will be accessible to service existing air conditioners after 2020.
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 may have more 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 restricted supply. Prices have only gone up due to scarcity.
Recall that in order to buy R22, you must be an EPA-certified technician. So, the average homeowner isn’t able to purchase a cylinder themselves. Plus, there are some strict regulations now on how refrigerant must be reclaimed and recycled, which raises the price. This cost is passed on to the homeowner as companies must cover the increased overhead related to R22 repairs. There are requirements for importing, labeling, record keeping, reporting, destruction and reclaiming of R22 from existing air conditioners.
So, how will this affect you?
The cost of R22 is considerably increasing because of the declining supply, and new refrigerant will no longer be available for use at all after 2020, with the exception of recycled quantities.
If you’re thinking, “Man, this is starting to sound expensive,” you’re spot-on, it is. This is why when our technicians come out to assess your unit we look to see what refrigerant your unit uses, and lots of cases, we’ll advocate for an upgrade because of the increasing cost of taking care of an R22 air conditioner.
How do I know if my unit uses R22?
If your home has an air conditioning system that was built before 2010, your AC will likely have R22. However, if you installed your air conditioner after January 1, 2010, then your system may not have R22. You can find the type of refrigerant your system runs on by looking at the appliance’s nameplate. This nameplate is typically found on the outdoor condenser of your central air conditioning system. If you can't find it, you can read your user’s manual. If that doesn’t work either, you can reach out to 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 quickly if your unit uses R22.
Instead of Freon, use Puron
The industry has changed from R22 to R410a, which you may identify by the brand name Puron. Throughout this article, we’ll use the name R410a (although Puron is a familiar 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 provides a higher safety rating and an ozone depletion rating of zero, and it performed slightly better on energy-efficiency 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 against against this route. Typically a homeowner who is uneasy about the cost of replacing their system seeks out an alternative, and this appears to be an easy solution. It usually costs the homeowner more money, and virtually always voids the manufacturer warranty. The fact about “drop-ins” is that there is no “drop-in” solution where you simply swap out the refrigerant. The phrase “drop-in” is suggesting retrofitting a air conditioner, which when done right can cost the homeowner as much, or more, money than installing a new unit that uses R410a. In part, this is because different refrigerants function at different pressure levels and need different parts to run, which means the technician is forced to replace the most expensive components of your system to be compatible with the new refrigerant. If this vital step is missed, your system will quickly stop working, and you’ll need to get a new unit anyway.
Your manufacturer will typically not pay for the parts to make this swap because retrofitting your AC system will likely void the warranty. It’s normally 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 smart to discuss pricing offers with your HVAC provider if you’re concerned about cost. At Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning, we provide financing plans that make a replacement affordable, and we monitor for any manufacturer and utility rebates that would make it easier to handle a surprising replacement. To avoid an emergency on a hot day, many of our customers decide to do a pre-emptive replacement, and replace an old AC before it doesn’t work. 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 problem may not apply to you, because it’s probably that your system uses the new, approved replacement refrigerant, R410a. However, air conditioners installed after 2010 might use R22, so it’s best to check with an HVAC Expert. You can always look for and the refrigerant type by checking the nameplate on your condenser (the condenser is the outside unit).
What do I do if my air conditioner uses R22?
To summarize, if your HVAC equipment was produced prior to January 2010, especially if it’s older than a decade, you have a few options:
- Purchase an upgraded, more environmentally-friendly system that uses R410a.
- Contact 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 advised.
- 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 system. You are not required by the law to replace your air conditioner. At some point, your AC will quit running and it will need to be replaced, and only R410a units will be available for sale.
The ideal option is to get a new, upgraded air conditioner, particularly if your current air conditioner is already more than 10 years old. Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning has many 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 can be more efficient and offer you superior comfort, helping to decrease your energy costs.
You could also select the status quo and continue using recycled R22 air conditioning refrigerant for the time being. While this sounds like a good alternative, the expense 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 grow 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 today and we can provide an inspection to find out if you are currently using R22 and, if so, what’s the best next step.
The good news
While making the move to an approved AC refrigerant may be frustrating, it’s helping to save the ozone layer. These regulations will help defend 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 grand part of this by replacing an old R22 unit with a newer, ozone friendly unit.
If you have any questions, please reach us for a free, in-home consultation by filling out the form below.
*Freon is a registered trademark of the DuPont Corporation