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 find out more. R22 refrigerant is a chemical that keeps the air coming from your air conditioning system cool, so it’s unquestionably incredibly vital. Most air conditioning units older than 10 years use an AC refrigerant called R22 that’s commonly identified as Freon*, and is referred to by the EPA as HCFC-22. In this guide, we’ll use the name R22. This refrigerant was introduced in the 1950s and became the leading AC refrigerant in the residential heating and cooling industry. 

The Montreal Protocol 

Several decades later 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, began 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 recognized as one of the worst offenders. 

Timeline and R22 phase out progress in 2018 

In 2003, the phase out of R22 production and imports launched. By early 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 guarantee the public’s compliance with the new law, all sales of R22 must be purchased by a certified technician R22 refrigerant will be accessible 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 this sounds like a case study on supply and demand, then you are on the right track. As you likely understand, 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 obtain R22, you have 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 must be reclaimed and recycled, which adds to the cost. This fee is passed on to the homeowner as companies have 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 does this impact you? 

The cost of R22 is radically increasing because of the declining supply, and new refrigerant will no longer be available for use at all after 2020, excluding recycled quantities. 

If you’re thinking, “Man, this is starting to sound expensive,” you’re right, it is. This is why when our experts come out to inspect your unit we look to see what refrigerant your unit uses, and lots of cases, we’ll recommend an upgrade due to the increasing cost of sustaining 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 probably have R22. However, if you installed your air conditioner after January 1, 2010, then your air conditioner may not have R22. You can check the type of refrigerant your system runs on by checking the appliance’s nameplate. This nameplate is normally found on the outdoor condenser of your central air conditioning system. If you don’t find it, you can read 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 right away if your unit uses R22. 

Instead of Freon, use Puron 

The industry has made the switch from R22 to R410a, which you may recognize by the brand name Puron. Throughout 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 read about “drop-in” replacements for R22. We strongly advocate against this route. Usually a homeowner who is concerned about the cost of replacing their unit seeks out an alternative, and this appears to be 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 work at different pressure levels and require different parts to run, which forces the technician to replace the most expensive components of your system to fit with the new refrigerant. If this vital step is avoided, your system will quickly stop working, and you’ll end up installing a new unit anyway. If you insist on exploring this option, then consult with an HVAC specialist to determine your best option.   

Your manufacturer will probably 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 purchasing a new upgraded AC system will probably benefit most homeowners in dependability, satisfaction, and long-term comfort. 

It’s better to discuss pricing choices 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 an unexpected replacement. To reduce the chances of an emergency on a hot day, lots of our customers choose to do a pre-emptive replacement, and replace an old AC before it quits working. 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 possible that your system uses the new, approved replacement refrigerant, R410a. However, air conditioners installed after 2010 might use R22, so it’s wise 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). 

Lennox air conditioner with refrigerant type on label

What do I do if my air conditioner uses R22? 

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

  1. Buy an upgraded, more environmentally-friendly system that uses R410a. 
  1. Contact an expert to replace the parts in your current air conditioner to help make it compatible with an approved air conditioner refrigerant. This is not what we recommend. 
  1. Remain using recycled R22 and burn through costs like it’s the ozone layer. 

To be clear, the EPA regulates the production and use of this refrigerant, but not your system. The law doesn’t require you to replace your air conditioner. Ultimately, your AC will quit running and it will need to be replaced, and only R410a units will be available to purchase. 

The most straightforward option is to buy 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 with your budget, and again, we look out for rebates from HVAC manufacturers and local utilities to make it even easier. New AC equipment will also be more efficient and offer you superior comfort, helping to reduce 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 go over several hundred dollars (easily a down payment on a new system). You may also see the prices increase as demand continues to rise on a substance that is no longer produced or widely obtainable. 

If you aren’t confident what type of AC refrigerant your air conditioning system uses, let us help. Contact Stallion Heating and Air Conditioning today and we can provide an inspection to find out if you are currently using R22 and, if so, which option works best for you. 

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 big part of this by replacing an old R22 unit with a newer, ozone friendly unit. 

If you have any questions, please use 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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