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 certainly incredibly vital. Most air conditioning units older than 10 years use an AC refrigerant called R22 that’s commonly identified as Freon*, and is stated 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 leading AC refrigerant in the residential heating and cooling industry.
The Montreal Protocol
Moving ahead a few decades 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, initiated 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 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 launched. By the beginning of 2010 the production and import of R22 was reduced. However, servicing current, existing equipment is still allowed while 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. 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 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 you’re thinking that this sounds like a great case study for an economics professor teaching supply and demand, then you are on the right track. As you can imagine, older air conditioners more often have 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 risen due to scarcity.
Don’t forget that in order to buy R22, you’ll need to be an EPA-certified technician. So, the normal homeowner can’t purchase a cylinder themselves. Plus, there are some firm regulations now on how refrigerant is reclaimed and recycled, which increases expenses. 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 systems.
So, what does this mean for you?
The cost of R22 is dramatically increasing because of the dwindling 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 correct, it is. This is why when our professionals come out to inspect your unit we look 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 sustaining an R22 air conditioner.
How do I know if my unit uses R22?
If you own 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 system may not have R22. You can check the type of refrigerant your system runs on by reading 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. Otherwise, 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 made the switch from R22 to R410a, which you may know by the brand name Puron. For the rest of 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 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 route. Typically a homeowner who is concerned about the cost of replacing their air conditioner seeks out an alternative, and this sounds like an easy solution. It usually 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 merely swap out the refrigerant. The phrase “drop-in” is referring to retrofitting a unit, which when done correctly can cost the homeowner as much, or more, money than purchasing 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 be compatible with the new refrigerant. If this crucial step is skipped, your system will quickly stop running, and you’ll be forced to install a new unit anyway.
Your manufacturer will probably 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 choices with your HVAC provider if you’re worried about cost. At Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning, we offer financing that makes a replacement achieveable, and we monitor for any manufacturer and utility rebates that would make it easier to swallow an unforeseen replacement. To avoid an emergency on a hot day, many of our customers choose to do a pre-emptive replacement, and replace an old AC before it quits working. 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 problem may not apply to you, because it’s possible that your system uses the new, approved replacement refrigerant, R410a. However, systems installed after 2010 could still use R22, so it’s best to check with an HVAC Expert. You can always find 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 summarize, if your HVAC equipment was produced prior to January 2010, especially if it’s older than a decade, you have a few options:
- Buy 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 what we recommend.
- Stick with 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 unit. 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, specifically if your current air conditioner is already more than 10 years old. Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning has many financing options that help to meet your budget, 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 present you superior comfort, helping to reduce your energy costs.
You could also pick 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 increase 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. Contact 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 switch to an approved AC refrigerant may stressful, 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