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 known as Freon*, and is stated 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 predominant 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 cool. So, the U.S. EPA, in cooperation with other agencies and groups around the world, initiated 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 early 2010 the production and import of R22 decreased. However, servicing current, existing equipment is still permitted while there is an available supply of R22. To confirm 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 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 can imagine, older air conditioners more often have 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.
Recall that in order to buy R22, you must be an EPA-certified technician. So, the normal homeowner isn’t able to purchase a cylinder themselves. Plus, there are some stern regulations now on how refrigerant must be reclaimed and recycled, which raises the price. This fee is passed on to the homeowner as companies have 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 air conditioners.
So, what does this mean for you?
The cost of R22 is radically increasing because of the diminishing supply, and new refrigerant will no longer be available for use at all after 2020, except from 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 review your unit we check to see what refrigerant your unit uses, and lots of cases, we’ll advise an upgrade because 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 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 reach out to 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 right away if your unit uses R22.
Instead of Freon, use Puron
The industry has changed from R22 to R410a, which you may know 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 provides 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 heard information about “drop-in” replacements for R22. We strongly recommend against this choice. Normally a homeowner who is uneasy about the cost of replacing their unit 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 truth about “drop-ins” is that there is no “drop-in” solution where you merely swap out the refrigerant. The phrase “drop-in” is suggesting retrofitting a air conditioner, 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 demand 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 critical step is skipped, your system will quickly stop working, 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 buying 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 achieveable, and we monitor for any manufacturer and utility rebates that would make it easier to swallow an unexpected replacement. To reduce the chances of an emergency on a hot day, lots of our customers elect to do a pre-emptive replacement, and replace an old system before it quits working. 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 check for 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 recap, if your HVAC equipment was produced prior to January 2010, particularly if it’s older than a decade, you have some options:
- Shop for an upgraded, more environmentally-friendly system that uses R410a.
- Contact an expert to replace the parts in your current unit 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 AC. The law doesn’t require you 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 purchase.
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 many financing options that help with your budget, and again, we look out for rebates from HVAC manufacturers and local utilities to make it easier on you. New AC equipment will also be more efficient and give you superior comfort, helping to reduce your energy costs.
You could also choose the status quo and continue using recycled R22 air conditioning refrigerant for the near future. While this sounds like a great 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 obtainable.
If you aren’t confident what type of AC refrigerant your air conditioning system uses, let us help. Reach out to Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning today and we can provide an inspection to confirm 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 intimidating, 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 far-fetched to say that you, as a homeowner, are a large 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