AC Unit
AC Unit

You might be wondering…what is the R22 refrigerant phase out and does it affect me? 

Well…the R22 refrigerant phase out could affect you – particularly if you have central air in your house (or hope to!) so it’s best to have the facts.

In 2020, R22 (often referred to as “Freon”) will not be available for purchase as per the Montreal Protocol. The Montreal Protocol is an international environmental agreement, established requirements that began the worldwide phase-out of ozone-depleting CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons.) This Protocol is carried out in the United States as part of the Clean Air Act, which is implemented by the EPA.

R22 has been classified as an “ozone-depleting substance” (a greenhouse gas) that contributes to the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer and to global warming. Since we rely on the ozone to absorb harmful UV radiation, it’s very important to pinpoint and eliminate the use of greenhouse gases whenever possible and the U.S. has agreed to phase it out of production because of its damaging effect on the ozone layer.

AC system leaks release R22 into the environment and contribute to ozone depletion. The EPA-approved refrigerant, R410A, (unlike R22), contains no chlorine in its chemical make-up. R410A meets the stringent mandates of both the Montreal Protocol and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Should I Buy a Home With an R22 AC System?

This is a great question and it is important at to keep in mind that, as always, many factors play a role in the consumer’s buying decision and a home needs to be evaluated in a “whole-home” approach.  

Homes in the northeast are older (it’s part of the charm) and many will have AC systems with R22. Keep in mind if everything in a home is completely updated or sparkling brand new the asking price is typically higher as well.

The important thing for a buyer to keep in mind is that as an educated consumer budgeting and planning can take place for continuing maintenance and the joys of owning any home. In the years ahead you can look forward to enjoying the benefits of an environmentally friendly and energy-efficient AC system and new AC equipment can be more efficient, give superior comfort, as well as helping to lower energy costs.

1. How will you know if the R22 phase out will affect you?

Most air conditioners use one of two types of refrigerant, either R22 or R410A (often called Puron). R22 has been the primary refrigerant used for residential heat pump and air conditioning systems for more than four decades.

Keep in mind, even if your air conditioner system was installed in the recent 5-10 years or later, do not assume it has 410A. There were many variations in the R22 ruling that still allowed for the use of R22 in field installations. You need to identify which refrigerant serves your system.

How can you tell the difference?

This is what you should look for…

To know which type of refrigerant your air conditioner uses, take a look at the label on the compressor unit outside. It’ll clearly tell you which type of refrigerant the unit uses.

The older type is R22, (also identified as HCFC-22.)

R22 AC nameplate
R22 Refrigerant AC nameplate

The newer EPA-approved type is R410A.

R410A AC nameplate
EPA approved R410A refrigerant AC ameplate

Will supply and demand will affect the availability and the price of R22?

Yes, over the next 18 months the price for R22 is expected to go up.

Older air conditioners more frequently experience leaks and older air conditioners are more likely to use R22, which means there will be demand for R22 and a reduced supply. The relationship between supply and demand means – if there is less, it costs more. By the year 2020, it is expected R22 will no longer be imported or produced and only recycled R22 refrigerant will be available to service existing air conditioners after 2020.

2. What can you do now?

Ahead of the 2020 phase out, manufacturers are rationing the amount of R22 refrigerant being sold to HVAC contractors. If your air conditioner uses R-22 refrigerant, you may want to have your R22 system charged up now, while you can still get R22 and begin to budget to change out your system to one compatible with R410A.

AC system recharge
AC system recharge

Can You Just Swap Out Refrigerants?

If your system runs on R22 – you cannot just choose another refrigerant source and “swap out” your refrigerant, the systems are incompatible. There is development of “drop-ins” or retrofitting a system, as a cheaper alternative, however, it is not so straightforward.

Costs are typically more than expected for the retrofit because different refrigerants operate at different pressure levels and need different parts to run. Retrofits nearly always void the manufacturer warranty and require the technician to replace the most expensive components of your system to be compatible with the new refrigerant. If this crucial step is avoided, your system will quickly stop running, and you’ll end up installing a new unit anyway.

What if I do Nothing?

You could also pick the status quo and continue using recycled R22 air conditioning refrigerant for the time being. Keep in mind as the price of servicing old R22 AC systems starts to exceed several hundred dollars, this could have easily been a down payment on a new R410A system. Many homeowners decide to do a pre-emptive replacement to an environmentally friendly system to avoid emergencies on a hot day.

3. Were You Planning for a New System Anyway?

If you are about to put in central air, make sure you are not sold an R22 system (because they are still out there) because you will not be able to service it after 2020.

R22 refrigerant is being phased out (green tank)
R22 refrigerant is being phased out (green tank)

If you

Signs you may need a new system:

  • The constant presence of dust in your home – even after cleaning, is a good indication that there are leaks in the ductwork and compromise the efficiency of your air conditioning system and that will increase the operating cost.
  • If your air conditioner is excessively noisy, it’s possible that the duct system isn’t large enough for the square footage of your home or there could be a problem with the unit’s indoor coil.
  • Note the frequency that you need air conditioning repairs to the system, as it becomes more and more frequent it may be more worth your while instead of spending the money on repairs, to put a down payment on a new system.

It’s natural to be concerned about the cost of replacing part of your HVAC unit – keep in mind a new air conditioning unit may wind up eliminating the constant repair costs, lower your utility bills enough to help you recoup part of your investment, and a new more energy-efficient air conditioning system will also help increase the resale value of your home.

r unit is close to ten years old or older, you may want to consider replacing it instead of repairing it.

  • New air conditioning systems are all manufactured to comply with these EPA R22 phase out regulations and are designed to be much more energy-efficient.
  • Installing a new air conditioning system should improve your home’s indoor air quality.
  • A newer air conditioning system will increase the resale value of your home. 

EPA approved R410A Refrigerant (pink tank)

EPA approved R410A Refrigerant (pink tank)

 

4. What You May Want to Plan for Next…

The EPA suggest homeowners choose service technicians who are “EPA certified to handle refrigerants” regardless of the refrigerant used. The average homeowner can’t purchase R22 refrigerant for themselves and there are strict regulations in regard to how refrigerant should be reclaimed and recycled. There are requirements for importing, labeling, record keeping, reporting, destruction and reclaiming of R22 from existing systems.

The EPA regulates the production and use of R22 refrigerant, but not your system. You aren’t required by law to replace your air conditioner. But at some point, your AC will stop running and it will need to be replaced, and only R410A units will be available to buy. Some service experts offer financing options and there are available rebates from HVAC manufacturers and local utilities.

The future street sign

The Good News

As responsible citizens, most people are interested in preserving the environment. There are valuable benefits to switching from an R22 air conditioning unit to one that uses R410A. An R410A system has a higher safety rating and an ozone depletion rating of zero, and has performed slightly better on energy-efficiency tests than R22.

Making the move to an approved AC refrigerant is helping to save the ozone layer. These EPA 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 – and each of us is part of making a difference by replacing an old R22 unit with a newer, ozone friendly unit.

Interested in more EPA and Federal details? Check out the websites below.

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

https://www.epa.gov/ods-phaseout/phaseout-class-ii-ozone-depleting-substances

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