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 use an AC refrigerant called R22 that’s commonly identified as Freon*, and is referred to 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.
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, began a phase out of many 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.
In 2003, the phase out of R22 production and imports began. By early 2010 the production and import of R22 was reduced. However, servicing current, existing equipment is still acceptable 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 obtainable to service existing air conditioners after 2020.
If this sounds like a case study on supply and demand, then you are correct. 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 very limited supply. Prices have only risen due to scarcity.
Recall 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 stern regulations now on how refrigerant should be reclaimed and recycled, which adds to the cost. This cost is passed on to the homeowner as companies are forced 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.
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, except from recycled quantities.
If you’re thinking, “Holy cow, this is starting to sound expensive,” you’re correct, it is. This is why when our technicians 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 maintaining an R22 air conditioner.
If you have 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 see 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 check your user’s manual. Alternatively, 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.
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 serious benefits to switching from an R22 air conditioning unit to one that uses R410a. It has a higher safety rating tests than R22.
You may have heard of “drop-in” replacements for R22. We strongly advocate against this route. Typically a homeowner who is concerned about the cost of replacing their system seeks out an alternative, and this sounds like an easy solution. It usually 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 indicating retrofitting a system, which when done properly 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 forces the technician 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. If you are insistent on exploring drop-ins, then consult with an HVAC company to determine your best option.
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 typically 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 have financing available that makes a replacement doable, 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, many 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 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 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).
To recap, if your HVAC equipment was produced prior to January 2010, especially if it’s older than a decade, you have a few options:
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 to purchase.
The most straightforward option is to purchase a new, upgraded air conditioner, especially if your current air conditioner is already more than 10 years old. Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning has many 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 will also 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 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 climb as demand continues to rise on a substance that is no longer produced or widely obtainable.
If you aren’t sure what type of AC refrigerant your air conditioning system uses, we can help. Contact Fras-Air/General Service Experts today and we can provide an inspection to find out if you are currently using R22 and, if so, which option works best for you.
While making the switch to an approved AC refrigerant may stressful, it’s helping to save the ozone layer. These regulations will help protect 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 implausible 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 contact us for a free, in-home consultation by filling out the form below.
*Freon is a registered trademark of the DuPont Corporation
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