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 unquestionably incredibly critical. Most air conditioning units older than 10 years use an AC refrigerant called R22 that’s commonly known as Freon*, and is noted 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 main 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, started 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 began. By the start of 2010 the production and import of R22 was reduced. However, servicing current, existing equipment is still acceptable if there is an available supply of R22. To confirm 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 correct. As you likely understand, 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.

Remember that in order to obtain R22, you must be an EPA-certified technician. So, the average homeowner isn’t able to purchase a cylinder themselves. Also, there are some stern regulations now on how refrigerant is reclaimed and recycled, which increases expenses. This cost is passed on to the homeowner as companies have to cover the increased overhead connected to R22 repairs. There are requirements for importing, labeling, record keeping, reporting, destruction and reclaiming of R22 from existing units.

So, what does this mean for you?

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

If you’re thinking, “Man, this is starting to sound expensive,” you’re correct, it is. This is why when our experts come out to assess your unit we look to see what refrigerant your unit uses, and lots of cases, we’ll advise an upgrade due to the increasing cost of sustaining an R22 air conditioner.

How do I know if my unit uses R22?

If you own 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 unit may not have R22. You can check 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 don’t find it, you can grab your user’s manual. If that doesn’t work either, 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 changed 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 provides 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 advocate 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 typically costs the homeowner more money, and nearly always voids the manufacturer warranty. The reality about “drop-ins” is that there is no “drop-in” solution where you merely swap out the refrigerant. The phrase “drop-in” is indicating retrofitting a system, which when done properly can cost the homeowner as much, or more, money than buying a new unit that uses R410a. In part, this is because different refrigerants work 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 work 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 insist on exploring this option, then consult with an HVAC company to determine your best alternative.

Your manufacturer will possibly not pay for the parts to make this switch because retrofitting your AC system will likely void the warranty. It’s typically 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 options with your HVAC provider if you’re concerned about cost. At Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning, we provide financing plans that make a replacement achieveable, and we monitor for any manufacturer and utility rebates that would make it easier to manage an unexpected replacement. To avoid an emergency on a hot day, a lot of of our customers decide 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 problem may not apply to you, because it’s probably that your system uses the new, approved replacement refrigerant, R410a. However, systems installed after 2010 could still use R22, so it’s wise 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, especially if it’s older than a decade, you have a few options:

  1. Buy an upgraded, more environmentally-friendly system that uses R410a.
  1. Reach out to 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. Keep using recycled R22 and burn cash like it’s the ozone layer.

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

The best option is to buy a new, upgraded air conditioner, especially if your current air conditioner is already more than 10 years old. Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning has several financing options that help with your budget, 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 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 near future. While this sounds like a nice 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 accessible.

If you aren’t confident what type of AC refrigerant your air conditioning system uses, our team is here. Reach out to Norrell Service Experts 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 transition to an approved AC refrigerant may stressful, it’s helping to save the ozone layer. These regulations will help guard 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 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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