4 Questions about the R-22 Refrigerant Phase-Out
Ever wonder what keeps your central cooling system ticking?
It’s refrigerant. This chemical compound aids in heat transfer, consistently changing between liquid and gaseous forms in order to influence the temperature of your home’s air. Without refrigerant, an air conditioner or heat pump would not be able to effectively cool or heat your home.
R-22 Refrigerant Phase-Out
R-22 is a type of refrigerant that has been commonly used in air conditioners and heat pumps for years. Unfortunately, it contains hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) that deplete the ozone layer and contribute to global warming. In order to comply with the Montreal protocol, the EPA has deemed that production and consumption of R-22 must be gradually diminished and, eventually, ceased by the year 2020.
When will the transition occur?
The phase-out of R-22 is a gradual process that began in 2004 and will end by the year 2020. Here are the milestones for that gradual phase-out:
U.S. must reduce consumption of HCFCs by 35%
U.S. must reduce consumption of HCFCs by 75% (R-22 may only be imported or produced by allowance holders in order to service existing R-22 compatible equipment at factories)
U.S. must reduce consumption of HCFCs by 90%
U.S. must reduce consumption of HCFCs by 99.5% (R-22 refrigerant that has been recovered and recycled/reclaimed can be used past 2020 to service existing R-22 systems, but new R-22 refrigerant can no longer be produced to service existing equipment
Does my air conditioner or heat pump use R-22?
If your cooling unit is 10+ years or older, you most likely have an R-22 compatible air conditioner or heat pump. Newer units, particularly high-efficiency air conditioners and heat pumps, are engineered to work with R-410A refrigerant, the more environmentally-friendly refrigerant choice.
It is important to know which refrigerant your current central cooling unit is compatible with u2013 particularly if your unit needs to be serviced. Using the wrong refrigerant can result in failure of your AC system.
There are a few R-22 replacements, besides R-410A, that are being touted as acceptable alternatives. However, combustible refrigerants can be a gamble because if ignited they can burn up your refrigerant supply or result in an explosion. There are no flammable refrigerants that have been approved by the EPA for use in heating and air conditioning equipment.
What are the pros and cons of switching to an R-410A compatible unit?
Pros: The price of R-22 will go up as the available supply of the refrigerant struggles to meet the demand for the refrigerant.
Heating and air conditioning manufacturers will produce less and less new equipment that is R-22 compatible.
If you purchase a new, energy-efficient air conditioner or heat pump that is compatible with R-410A you may enjoy savings on your utility bills.
Labor costs to service R-22 compatible equipment may climb because HVAC technicians will have to perform the proper recovery, recycle and reclaim processes. This can also require EPA certification.
Cons: Equipment that is compatible with different refrigerant doesn’t mix. That means that if you replace your outdoor condensing unit with an R-410A compatible unit, you will also have to replace your indoor coil and lineset as well.
R-410A is more sensitive to proper charging than R-22. However, this does not mean that R-410A equipment is any less reliable than R-22 compatible units.
So, what should you do?
The average life expectancy of an air conditioner is approximately 16 years. This means that the air conditioner or heat pump you purchase today will most likely carry you past the phase out date. So, just when your air conditioner is reaching an age where it may require more maintenance attention, the prices of R-22, due to the phase out, may be budget busting. Not only that, but the recovery and reclamation of R-22 will mean that your contractor must be EPA certified and may have to charge more.
So, you can either opt to purchase replacement parts or outdoor components that are still R-22 compatible and expect costly repairs down the road, Or you can purchase a new, efficient unit that is compatible with R-410A and take advantage of the perks of a new system while meshing with current EPA guidelines.