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 undoubtedly incredibly important. 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. That’s not great. So, the U.S. EPA, in cooperation with other agencies and groups around the world, started a phase out of lots of 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 launched. By the beginning of 2010 the production and import of R22 became prohibited. However, servicing current, existing equipment is still allowed as long as there is an available supply of R22. To guarantee the public’s compliance with the new law, all sales of R22 must be purchased by a certified technician 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 are starting to think this is a great topic for an economics professor regarding supply and demand, then you are on the right track. As you might assume, older air conditioners could more frequently experience leaks and need repairs. Any systems 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 gone up due to scarcity.
Remember that in order to purchase R22, you must be an EPA-certified technician. So, the typical homeowner can’t purchase a cylinder themselves. In addition, there are some strict regulations now on how refrigerant must be reclaimed and recycled, which adds to the cost. This expense 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, 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, excluding 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 assess your unit we check to see what refrigerant your unit uses, and in many cases, we’ll advocate for an upgrade because 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 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 grab your user’s manual. If that doesn’t work either, 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 made the switch 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 well-known 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 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 of “drop-in” replacements for R22. We strongly advocate against this option. Normally a homeowner who is concerned about the cost of replacing their air conditioner seeks out an alternative, and this appears to be an easy solution. It often costs the homeowner more money, and nearly 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 indicating retrofitting a air conditioner, which when done correctly 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 means the technician is forced to replace the most expensive components of your system to fit with the new refrigerant. If this vital step is skipped, your system will quickly stop running, and you’ll need to get a new unit anyway. If you are insistent on exploring this option, then consult with an HVAC company to determine your best replacement refrigerant.
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 options with your HVAC provider if you’re worried about cost. At Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning, we provide financing plans that make a replacement achieveable, and we keep track of any manufacturer and utility rebates that would make it easier to swallow an unforeseen 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 breaks down. If you’re thinking the same thing, 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 likely that your system uses the new, approved replacement refrigerant, R410a. However, units installed after 2010 could potentially use R22, so it’s ideal to check with an HVAC Expert. You can always look for 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, particularly if it’s older than a decade, you have some options:
- Buy 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.
- Stick with using recycled R22 and burn cash 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 not work and it will need to be replaced, and only R410a units will be available to purchase.
The most straightforward option is to purchase 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 make the purchase affordable, and again, we look out for rebates from HVAC manufacturers and local utilities to make it easier on you. New AC equipment can be more efficient and present you superior comfort, helping to lower your energy costs.
You could also select the status quo and continue using recycled R22 air conditioning refrigerant for the near future. While this sounds like a great alternative, the price 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 obtainable.
If you aren’t aware of 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, which option works best for you.
The good news
While making the switch to an approved AC refrigerant may stressful, it’s helping to save the ozone layer. These regulations will help defend 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 exaggerated 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 reach us for a free, in-home consultation by filling out the form below.
*Freon is a registered trademark of the DuPont Corporation