Updated: June 14, 2018
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 have an AC refrigerant called R22 that’s commonly recognized as Freon*, and is noted 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 leading AC refrigerant in the residential heating and cooling industry.
The Montreal Protocol
Fast forward a few decades and the world realized that R22 refrigerant was aiding in the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer. Not a great thing. 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 considered 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 the start of 2010 the production and import of R22 became prohibited. However, servicing current, existing equipment is still permitted if there is an available supply of R22. To ensure the public’s compliance with the new law, all sales of R22 must be bought by a certified technician. Production and import of R22 will be continually reduced by law until 2020, when all production and import will be eliminated. Only recycled R22 refrigerant will be available 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 likely understand, 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 restricted supply. Prices have only increased due to scarcity.
Remember that in order to buy R22, you have to be an EPA-certified technician. So, the typical homeowner can’t purchase a cylinder themselves. In addition, there are some stern regulations now on how refrigerant should be reclaimed and recycled, which raises the price. This cost 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 air conditioners.
So, how does this impact 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, 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 review your unit we make sure to see what refrigerant your unit uses, and lots of cases, we’ll recommend an upgrade due to 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 typically have R22. However, if you installed your air conditioner after January 1, 2010, then your unit may not have R22. You can find the type of refrigerant your system runs on by checking 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 check 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 immediately if your unit uses R22.
Instead of Freon, use Puron
The industry has moved from R22 to R410a, which you may identify by the brand name Puron. In the remainder this article, we’ll use the name R410a (although Puron is a recognized 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 offers 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 information about “drop-in” replacements for R22. We strongly advocate against this route. Typically a homeowner who is anxious about the cost of replacing their unit seeks out an alternative, and this feels 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 just 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 purchasing 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 be compatible with the new refrigerant. If this crucial step is avoided, your system will quickly stop operating, and you’ll end up installing a new unit anyway.
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 smart to discuss pricing choices 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 keep track of any manufacturer and utility rebates that would make it easier to handle a surprising replacement. To avoid emergencies on a hot day, lots of our customers decide to do a pre-emptive replacement, and replace an old unit before it breaks down. 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, systems installed after 2010 might use R22, so it’s ideal to check with an HVAC Expert. You can always check for this and the refrigerant type by reviewing 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 some options:
- Buy an upgraded, more environmentally-friendly system that uses R410a.
- Contact 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.
- Remain 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 AC. You are not required by the law to replace your air conditioner. Eventually, your AC will not work and it will need to be replaced, and only R410a units will be available to buy.
The best option is to get a new, upgraded air conditioner, specifically if your current air conditioner is already more than 10 years old. Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning has many financing options that help to meet your budget, and again, we look out for rebates from HVAC manufacturers and local utilities to help you out. New AC equipment is more efficient and give you superior comfort, helping to decrease 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 nice 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 increase as demand continues to rise on a substance that is no longer produced or widely accessable.
If you aren’t sure what type of AC refrigerant your air conditioning system uses, let us help. Contact 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 you can do.
The good news
While making the move to an approved AC refrigerant may intimidating, it’s helping to save the ozone layer. These 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. It’s not implausible 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