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 certainly incredibly important. Most air conditioning units older than 10 years use 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 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. 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 considered 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 early 2010 the production and import of R22 decreased. However, servicing current, existing equipment is still acceptable while there is an available supply of R22. To confirm the public’s compliance with the new law, all sales of R22 must be purchased 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 obtainable 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 this sounds like a case study on supply and demand, then you are correct. As you might assume, 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 restricted supply. Prices have only increased due to scarcity.
Remember that in order to buy R22, you must be an EPA-certified technician. So, the normal homeowner can’t purchase a cylinder themselves. In addition, there are some strict regulations now on how refrigerant should be reclaimed and recycled, which raises the price. This cost 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 units.
So, how will this affect you?
The cost of R22 is considerably increasing because of the dwindling 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 experts come out to inspect your unit we check to see what refrigerant your unit uses, and in the majority of the cases, we’ll recommend an upgrade as a result of the increasing cost of taking care of 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 probably have R22. However, if you installed your air conditioner after January 1, 2010, then your unit may not have R22. You can check the type of refrigerant your system runs on by reading the appliance’s nameplate. This nameplate is normally 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 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 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 recognized 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 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 recommend against this choice. Typically 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 often costs the homeowner more money, and nearly always voids the manufacturer warranty. The fact 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 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 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 working, and you’ll need to get a new unit anyway.
Your manufacturer will probably not pay for the parts to make this transition because retrofitting your AC system will likely void the warranty. It’s normally 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 smart 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 monitor for any manufacturer and utility rebates that would make it easier to handle a surprising replacement. To reduce the chances of an emergency on a hot day, a lot of 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 probably that your system uses the new, approved replacement refrigerant, R410a. However, systems installed after 2010 could potentially use R22, so it’s best to check with an HVAC Expert. You can always look for 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, especially if it’s older than a decade, you have some options:
- Shop for an upgraded, more environmentally-friendly system that uses R410a.
- Call an expert to replace the parts in your current air conditioner to help make it compatible with an approved air conditioner refrigerant. This is not advised.
- Remain 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 unit. You are not required by the law 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 buy.
The best option is to get 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 help you out. New AC equipment can be more efficient and give 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 time being. While this sounds like a great alternative, the price of servicing old R22 A/C systems is starting to go over 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 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 find out if you are currently using R22 and, if so, what’s the best next step.
The good news
While making the move 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 far-fetched 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