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The R-22 Refrigerant Phase Out & How It Might Affect You

If your air conditioner was installed before 2010, the R-22 phase-out will probably impact you. The R-22 refrigerant, Freon®, was used in air conditioning systems predating 2010. R-22 is an ozone depleting substance (ODS) that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other similar agencies around the world are phasing out. As of January 1st, 2020, production and import of R-22 will be illegal in the United States.

What Is Refrigerant?

In your AC unit or heat pump, the refrigerant is the solvent that runs through the device’s coils. Using the pump, condenser, and evaporator of your device, various forces are placed on the refrigerant, allowing it to switch into liquid and gas states. 

The change makes the material either hot or cold. As the pressure changes, the air flowing over the coils becomes readily absorbed or gives off heat, changing the temperature of that air. The cold air eventually makes its way to the rooms within your house.

What is R-22?

R-22 belongs to the class of Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC). Try to say that five times fast. The job of these gas or liquid chemicals is to evaporate quickly, creating a fast and powerful reaction to the cooling. R-22 would often be used in fridges, freezers, and air conditioners.

Although R-22 is quite useful, it is a hazardous substance that affects our environment. These contaminants are emitted into the stratosphere when evaporated, which destroy our ozone layer and limits defense from damaging Ultraviolet rays from the sun.

What Refrigerant Is In My Cooling System?

The EPA imposed a moratorium on the manufacturing and importation of R-22 on January 1, 2010. The EPA has banned the manufacture and deployment of modern R-22 AC or heat-pump devices. 

As a consequence, AC and heat pump equipment manufacturers have revamped their facilities to handle the chlorine-free refrigerant, R410A. If your AC or heat pump was developed and installed before January 1, 2010, there’s a good chance that it uses R-22 refrigerant. The appliances may have a sticker indicating the form of refrigerant used. Still, it is a smart idea to ask for clarification from your licensed professional AC or heat pump supplier.

Why is there an R-22 phase-out?

The EPA established decades ago that R-22 (an HCFC refrigerant) posed severe environmental risks. Leaks in AC compressors lead to the leakage of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HFCF’s) into the ozone-depleting soil.

In the 1970s, it was observed to deplete the Earth’s ozone layer in certain forms of refrigerants (including the industry-standard air conditioner refrigerant R-22). An international agreement called the Montreal Protocol called for such kinds of refrigerants to be phased out worldwide.

The EPA has since gradually increased the limits on exporting and processing R-22, and the R-22 phase-out is complete as of January 2020. R-22 can no longer be manufactured or shipped into the United States, and the current supply will not last long.

Pressure, temperature, and volume interconnect within an HVAC system. Inside a refrigerant piping device, there is a set volume, and when the load increases, the temperature changes. Coolant is moved through four major components-compressor, condenser coil, expansion valve, evaporation coil-where pressure, and temperature change.

R-410a coolant operates at a higher pressure than R-22, and design specifications are built to support higher weight on new HVAC systems. If you put the R-410a coolant into an older R-22 system, the pressure would be too high, causing the system to fail.

How it may affect you

Because of the decreasing supply, the expense of R-22 is increasing significantly. New refrigerants will not be available for use after 2020, except for recycled amounts.

When you say, “Oh, this is beginning to sound pricey,” you’re sincere, it’s right. When Ideal Comfort comfort specialists come out to evaluate your HVAC system, they will determine what refrigerant your system uses. Then they provide a list of the best options for you and your home or business 

What are the effects of the R-22 refrigerant phase-out for your home or business?

1. Increase in repair costs

Now that R-22 cannot be processed or transported into the US, the supply will shrink over time, and the cost will increase. The cost of fixing machinery that requires R-22 will increase dramatically as the level of R-22 refrigerant increases. A repair requiring replacement of the refrigerant may end up being more expensive than a whole unit replacement. 

2. Potential fees for R-22 leaks

When refrigerant leaks occur in your older AC or refrigeration appliances, you can face the consequences beyond the cost of repair. Due to the environmental hazards of refrigerants escaping into the atmosphere, the EPA has strict regulations about the prompt restoration of any documented refrigerant leaks. If a detected leak is missed, and you are discovered to be in breach, hefty penalties could be applied.

3. Be cautious of counterfeit or diluted refrigerant

Now that the phase-out of the R-22 refrigerant is complete, demand will rise, and supply for R-22 will reach an all-time low. As a consequence, the EPA has already reported cases of the selling of falsified and tainted refrigerants, which caused explosions and fires.

Don’t endanger your business, employees, clients, or family. After the R-22 refrigerant phase-out date, if you need to patch an older system, just purchase the refrigerant from a reliable HVAC service provider. So, make sure that your repair company so technicians are trained in the safe handling of refrigerant air conditioners. 

By law, technicians who can handle refrigerant when serving air conditioners and refrigeration equipment must be certified as having EPA 608. It indicates they have finished a training program and undergone a qualification test. Since the credential never ends, you need to guarantee that your service provider holds the regulatory changes. You should also ensure that your HVAC-R service provider utilizes refrigeration handling equipment, which is licensed by EPA while operating in your house. 

4. Environmental Impact

Refrigerant is needed for an air-conditioning device to deliver cold air. R-22 refrigerant has been phased out over the past several years owing to its capacity for ozone depletion and a high potential for global warming. A new refrigerant was developed, which is more environmentally friendly. The refrigerant R410A is entirely free from chlorine. 

For the last five years or so, vendors have been manufacturing just air-conditioning equipment that uses the R410A refrigerant to support home or business owners make the transition.

What are my Options, if I have a R-22 HVAC system? Repairing vs. Replacing:

Technically, you need to do nothing. Your system is not illegal and so long as R-22 is still available, it is not illegal to service your system with R-22. However, we at Ideal Comfort will always caution you against that. 

Even though Repairing may sound like an easy fix, the rise in price of R-22 is only going to get worse as the supply shrinks. Therefore, simply repairing the leak and replacing it with R-22 is only going to push back the inevitable replacement of your system. 

As the old adage goes “Do it right the first time.” This is typically your best option and will save you the most money in the long run. Therefore, we recommend replacing your R-22 system with a more efficient and environmentally friendly R-410A system.

Can You Just Swap out R-22 Refrigerant and replace it with R-410A?

If your device is operating on R-22–you cannot merely select any supplier of refrigerant and “swap” your coolant. The cooling systems are incompatible and could harm your system as R-410A runs at a much higher pressure. Your components will need to be replaced. 

Are there ANY alternative options?

There is technically an option to use what’s called a “drop-in” or retrofitting existing equipment. However, none of them have been universally embraced, and they may end up costing you more in the long run. Ideal Comfort, like most reputable HVAC companies, does not recommend this option.

 Costs for the retrofit are usually more than anticipated because various refrigerants work at different pressure ranges and require different parts to function. Retrofits almost always cancel the manufacturer’s warranty and allow the contractor to remove the system’s most expensive components to be compatible with the new refrigerant.

Conclusion

To be clear, the EPA regulates this refrigerant’s manufacture and use but not your AC. By law, you’re not required to replace your air conditioner. The AC will eventually stop operating, and it will need to be repaired, and only R410a systems will be available for purchase.

Buying a new, updated air conditioner may be the best option for you and your home. This is especially true if your current air conditioner is already over ten years old, you will more than likely save money in time.

Ideal Comfort HVAC has plenty of financing options to assist with your project. We also search for rebates from HVAC suppliers and local utilities to make it even easier.

The EPA recommends consumers, irrespective of the refrigerant used, select repair technicians who are “EPA qualified to treat refrigerants.” The average homeowner cannot purchase R-22 coolant for themselves, and there are strict regulations as to how to reuse and recycle the refrigerant. There are specifications from existing systems for the manufacture, marking, record-keeping, recording, degradation, and reclaiming of R-22. 

Reach out to us at Ideal Comfort HVAC for all of your heating and air conditioning needs. We service residential and commercial clients in the Northern Colorado area, we take pride in our work, and our care for our customers shows.

 

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