Updated: June 14, 2018
If your air conditioner was installed before 2010 and you don’t know what R22 is then you should probably find out more. 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 recognized as Freon*, and is noted 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 main 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. Not cool. So, the U.S. EPA, in cooperation with other agencies and groups around the world, started 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 allowed as long as 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. Production and import of R22 will be continually reduced by law until 2020, when all production and import will be banned. 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 could more frequently experience 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 reduced supply. Prices have only gone up due to scarcity.
Remember that in order to purchase R22, you’ll need 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 should 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 connected to 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 diminishing 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 right, it is. This is why when our technicians come out to inspect your unit we check to see what refrigerant your unit uses, and lots of cases, we’ll advise an upgrade due to the increasing cost of maintaining 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 likely have R22. However, if you installed your air conditioner after January 1, 2010, then your air conditioner may not have R22. You can see 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 find it, you can check 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 immediately if your unit uses R22.
Instead of Freon, use Puron
The industry has made the switch from R22 to R410a, which you may identify 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 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 option. Normally a homeowner who is concerned about the cost of replacing their system seeks out an alternative, and this sounds like an easy solution. It typically costs the homeowner more money, and virtually always voids the manufacturer warranty. The fact about “drop-ins” is that there is no “drop-in” solution where you simply swap out the refrigerant. The phrase “drop-in” is referring to retrofitting a unit, which when done properly can cost the homeowner as much, or more, money than purchasing a new unit that uses R410a. In part, this is because different refrigerants work at different pressure levels and demand different parts to run, which forces the technician to replace the most expensive components of your system to fit with the new refrigerant. If this vital step is avoided, your system will quickly stop running, and you’ll be forced to install 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 typically just a temporary fix, but purchasing a new upgraded AC system will probably benefit most homeowners in dependability, satisfaction, and long-term comfort.
It’s wise to discuss pricing choices with your HVAC provider if you’re worried about cost. At Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning, we have financing available that makes a replacement doable, and we keep track of any manufacturer and utility rebates that would make it easier to manage a surprising replacement. To avoid an emergency on a hot day, a lot of of our customers choose to do a pre-emptive replacement, and replace an old unit before it doesn’t work. 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, air conditioners installed after 2010 might use R22, so it’s ideal to check with an HVAC Expert. You can always find 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, particularly if it’s older than a decade, you have a few options:
- Buy 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 through costs 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. Ultimately, your AC will stop working and it will need to be replaced, and only R410a units will be available for sale.
The most straightforward option is to buy a new, upgraded air conditioner, especially if your current air conditioner is already more than 10 years old. Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning has several financing options that help with your budget, 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 present 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 time being. While this sounds like a nice alternative, the expense 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 obtainable.
If you aren’t aware of 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 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 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 contact us for a free, in-home consultation by filling out the form below.
*Freon is a registered trademark of the DuPont Corporation