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 known as Freon*, and is referred to 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
Fast forward a few decades and the world realized that R22 refrigerant was aiding in the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer. That’s not great. 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 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 the beginning of 2010 the production and import of R22 decreased. However, servicing current, existing equipment is still allowed if there is an available supply of R22. To guarantee the public’s compliance with the new law, all sales of R22 must be bought by a certified technician. The production and import of R22 will be continually reduced by law until 2020, when all production and import will be forbidden. 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 can imagine, older air conditioners more often have 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 very limited supply. Prices have only gone up due to scarcity.
Remember that in order to buy R22, you have to be an EPA-certified technician. So, the typical homeowner is unable to purchase a cylinder themselves. In addition, there are some strict regulations now on how refrigerant must be reclaimed and recycled, which raises the price. This fee is passed on to the homeowner as companies are forced 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, how does this impact you?
The cost of R22 is considerably increasing because of the declining 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, “Holy cow, this is starting to sound expensive,” you’re spot-on, it is. This is why when our technicians come out to inspect your unit we check to see what refrigerant your unit uses, and in the majority of the cases, we’ll advocate for 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 your home has an air conditioning system that was built before 2010, your AC will probably have R22. However, if you installed your air conditioner after January 1, 2010, then your system 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 locate it, you can read 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 recognize by the brand name Puron. Throughout this article, we’ll use the name R410a (although Puron is a familiar brand, there are other companies that make R410a). There are some key 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 information about “drop-in” replacements for R22. We strongly against against this choice. 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 often 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 indicating retrofitting a unit, 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 require 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 vital step is avoided, your system will quickly stop running, and you’ll need to get a new unit anyway.
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 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 choices with your HVAC provider if you’re worried about cost. At Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning, we provide financing plans that make a replacement affordable, and we keep track of any manufacturer and utility rebates that would make it easier to handle an unforeseen replacement. To avoid emergencies on a hot day, lots of our customers choose to do a pre-emptive replacement, and replace an old unit 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 problem may not apply to you, because it’s probably 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 reading 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, specifically if it’s older than a decade, you have a few options:
- Purchase an upgraded, more environmentally-friendly system that uses R410a.
- Contact 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 recommended.
- 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 AC. You aren’t required by law to replace your air conditioner. At some point, your AC will stop working and it will need to be replaced, and only R410a units will be available to buy.
The best option is to purchase 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 even easier. New AC equipment will also be more efficient and offer you superior comfort, helping to decrease 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 select the status quo and continue using recycled R22 air conditioning refrigerant for the near future. While this sounds like a nice alternative, the cost 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 climb as demand continues to rise on a substance that is no longer produced or widely accessable.
If you aren’t confident what type of AC refrigerant your air conditioning system uses, let us help. Call Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning today and we can provide an inspection to determine if you are currently using R22 and, if so, what you can do.
The good news
While making the transition 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 grand 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