Updated: June 14, 2018
If your air conditioner was installed before 2010 and you don’t know what R22 is then you should probably read up. R22 refrigerant is a chemical that keeps the air coming from your air conditioning system cool, so it’s undoubtedly incredibly vital. Most air conditioning units older than 10 years use an AC refrigerant called R22 that’s commonly recognized as Freon*, and is referred to 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 predominant 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. Not cool. So, the U.S. EPA, in cooperation with other agencies and groups around the world, began a phase out of several 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 believed to be 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 beginning of 2010 the production and import of R22 became prohibited. However, servicing current, existing equipment is still acceptable if 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 production and import 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 right. As you can imagine, 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 increased due to scarcity.
Don’t forget that in order to obtain R22, you’ll need to be an EPA-certified technician. So, the typical homeowner can’t purchase a cylinder themselves. Plus, there are some stern regulations now on how refrigerant is reclaimed and recycled, which adds to the cost. This fee 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 air conditioners.
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, except from recycled quantities.
If you’re thinking, “Wow, this is starting to sound expensive,” you’re spot-on, it is. This is why when our technicians come out to assess your unit we make sure to see what refrigerant your unit uses, and lots of cases, we’ll advise 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 have 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 air conditioner 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 can't find it, you can check your user’s manual. Alternatively, you can contact 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 moved from R22 to R410a, which you may identify 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 valuable benefits to switching from an R22 air conditioning unit to one that uses R410a. It has a higher safety rating and an ozone depletion rating of zero, and it performed slightly better on energy-efficiency tests than R22.
You may have heard of “drop-in” replacements for R22. We strongly against against this option. Typically a homeowner who is uneasy about the cost of replacing their system seeks out an alternative, and this sounds like an easy solution. It often 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 merely swap out the refrigerant. The phrase “drop-in” is suggesting retrofitting a system, which when done correctly 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 results in the technician needing to replace the most expensive components of your system to fit with the new refrigerant. If this critical step is missed, your system will quickly stop operating, and you’ll end up installing a new unit anyway.
Your manufacturer will typically not pay for the parts to make this transition 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 offers with your HVAC provider if you’re worried about cost. At Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning, we offer financing that makes a replacement affordable, and we keep track of any manufacturer and utility rebates that would make it easier to manage an unforeseen replacement. To avoid emergencies on a hot day, a lot of of our customers decide to do a pre-emptive replacement, and replace an old system 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 likely 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 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 review, if your HVAC equipment was produced prior to January 2010, specifically if it’s older than a decade, you have a few 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 advised.
- Keep 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 system. 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 purchase.
The ideal option is to get 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 make the purchase affordable, and again, we look out for rebates from HVAC manufacturers and local utilities to help you out. New AC equipment will also be more efficient and offer you superior comfort, helping to reduce your energy costs.
We do have one more option available in select locations. To provide our customers with high-quality equipment and service at competitive rates, we started the Advantage Program, which is a worry-free program that provides HVAC equipment with a full coverage repair and maintenance plan for a low monthly price.
You could also pick the status quo and continue using recycled R22 air conditioning refrigerant for the near future. While this sounds like a good alternative, the cost of servicing old R22 A/C systems is starting to surpass several hundred dollars (easily a down payment on a new system). You may also see the prices grow as demand continues to rise on a substance that is no longer produced or widely available.
If you aren’t aware of what type of AC refrigerant your air conditioning system uses, our team is here. Reach out to Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning today and we can provide an inspection to determine 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 intimidating, 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 contact us for a free, in-home consultation by filling out the form below.
*Freon is a registered trademark of the DuPont Corporation