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 identified as Freon*, and is referred to 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
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, started 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 commenced. By the start of 2010 the production and import of R22 was reduced. However, servicing current, existing equipment is still permitted as long as 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 banned. Only recycled R22 refrigerant will be accessible 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 are starting to think this is a great topic for an economics professor regarding supply and demand, then you are right. 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 increased due to scarcity.
Remember that in order to buy R22, you’ll need to be an EPA-certified technician. So, the normal homeowner is unable to purchase a cylinder themselves. In addition, there are some strict regulations now on how refrigerant is reclaimed and recycled, which increases expenses. This expense is passed on to the homeowner as companies must cover the increased overhead related to 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 radically increasing because of the declining supply, and new refrigerant will no longer be available for use at all after 2020, excluding recycled quantities.
If you’re thinking, “Holy cow, this is starting to sound expensive,” you’re right, it is. This is why when our technicians come out to inspect your unit we make sure to see what refrigerant your unit uses, and in the majority of the cases, we’ll advise an upgrade due to the increasing cost of maintaining 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 usually found on the outdoor condenser of your central air conditioning system. If you can’t locate 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 recognize 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 valuable 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 read about “drop-in” replacements for R22. We strongly advocate against this choice. Usually a homeowner who is anxious about the cost of replacing their air conditioner seeks out an alternative, and this sounds like an easy solution. It typically costs the homeowner more money, and virtually always voids the manufacturer warranty. The truth about “drop-ins” is that there is no “drop-in” solution where you just swap out the refrigerant. The phrase “drop-in” is suggesting retrofitting a unit, which when done right can cost the homeowner as much, or more, money than installing a new unit that uses R410a. In part, this is because different refrigerants operate at different pressure levels and need different parts to run, which forces the technician to replace the most expensive components of your system to work with the new refrigerant. If this critical step is avoided, your system will quickly stop operating, and you’ll need to get a new unit anyway.
Your manufacturer will typically not pay for the parts to make this switch because retrofitting your AC system will likely void the warranty. It’s usually just a temporary fix, but shopping for a new upgraded AC system will probably benefit most homeowners in dependability, satisfaction, and long-term comfort.
It’s better to discuss pricing offers with your HVAC provider if you’re concerned about cost. At Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning, we offer financing 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 emergencies on a hot day, lots of our customers elect to do a pre-emptive replacement, and replace an old AC before it quits working. 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 probably that your system uses the new, approved replacement refrigerant, R410a. However, air conditioners installed after 2010 could potentially use R22, so it’s best to check with an HVAC Expert. You can always find this and the refrigerant type by checking 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:
- Shop for an upgraded, more environmentally-friendly system that uses R410a.
- Reach out to an expert to replace the parts in your current AC system to help make it compatible with an approved air conditioner refrigerant. This is not what we recommend.
- 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. The law doesn’t require you to replace your air conditioner. Ultimately, 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, particularly 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 even easier. New AC equipment will also be more efficient and offer you superior comfort, helping to lower 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 good alternative, the expense 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 climb as demand continues to rise on a substance that is no longer produced or widely obtainable.
If you aren’t aware of what type of AC refrigerant your air conditioning system uses, we can help. Call Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning today and we can provide an inspection to confirm if you are currently using R22 and, if so, what you can do.
The good news
While making the switch to an approved AC refrigerant may be frustrating, 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 implausible 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 reach us for a free, in-home consultation by filling out the form below.
*Freon is a registered trademark of the DuPont Corporation