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 undoubtedly incredibly critical. Most air conditioning units older than 10 years utilize an AC refrigerant called R22 that’s commonly identified as Freon*, and is noted by the EPA as HCFC-22. In this blog, 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 

Moving ahead a few decades 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, initiated 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 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 early 2010 the production and import of R22 was reduced. However, servicing current, existing equipment is still acceptable while there is an available supply of R22. To ensure the public’s compliance with the new law, all sales of R22 must be acquired 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 correct. As you might assume, older air conditioners may have more leaks and need repairs. Any air conditioners that are older than 2010 are more likely to use R22, which means there’s a lot more demand for it, and a reduced supply. Prices have only gone up due to scarcity. 

Don’t forget that in order to obtain 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 stern regulations now on how refrigerant is reclaimed and recycled, which raises the price. This expense is passed on to the homeowner as companies have to cover the increased overhead associated with R22 repairs. There are requirements for importing, labeling, record keeping, reporting, destruction and reclaiming of R22 from existing systems. 

So, what does this mean for you? 

The cost of R22 is dramatically increasing because of the diminishing 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 right, it is. This is why when our experts come out to assess your unit we make sure to see what refrigerant your unit uses, and lots of cases, we’ll recommend an upgrade as a result of the increasing cost of maintaining 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 reading the appliance’s nameplate. This nameplate is usually found on the outdoor condenser of your central air conditioning system. If you don’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 know by the brand name Puron. For the rest of 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 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 information about “drop-in” replacements for R22. We strongly advocate against this option. Normally a homeowner who is anxious about the cost of replacing their system seeks out an alternative, and this feels like an easy solution. It typically costs the homeowner more money, and almost 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 indicating retrofitting a unit, which when done correctly can cost the homeowner as much, or more, money than purchasing a new unit that uses R410a. In part, this is because different refrigerants function at different pressure levels and require different parts to run, which means the technician is forced 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 be forced to install a new unit anyway. If you are insistent on exploring retrofitting, then consult with an HVAC company to determine your best option.   

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 better to discuss pricing options with your HVAC provider if you’re concerned about cost. At Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning, we have financing available that makes a replacement doable, 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 choose to do a pre-emptive replacement, and replace an old AC before it breaks down. If you’re considering that route as well, 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 challenge 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 potentially use R22, so it’s wise to check with an HVAC Expert. You can always find this and the refrigerant type by reviewing 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 these options: 

  1. Shop for an upgraded, more environmentally-friendly system that uses R410a. 
  1. Reach out to an expert to replace the parts in your current unit to help make it compatible with an approved air conditioner refrigerant. This is not recommended. 
  1. Keep 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 AC. The law doesn’t require you to replace your air conditioner. Eventually, your AC will quit running and it will need to be replaced, and only R410a units will be available to buy. 

The most straightforward option is to buy a new, upgraded air conditioner, specifically if your current air conditioner is already more than 10 years old. Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning has several financing options that help to meet your budget, 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 give 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 near future. While this sounds like a great alternative, the price 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 accessable. 

If you aren’t aware of what type of AC refrigerant your air conditioning system uses, we can help. Reach out to Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing today and we can provide an inspection to confirm if you are currently using R22 and, if so, what’s the best next step. 

The good news 

While making the switch to an approved AC refrigerant may intimidating, 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 large 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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