What refrigerant powers the cooling comfort behind your home air conditioning unit? Most have not thought about this, but you may want to know as a common refrigerant, known as R-22, is being sun-setted by the US Government over the next couple months.
In the year 2020 there will be no more R-22 produced or imported into the United States. So, in just a few months’ supply of this refrigerant will be reduced to practically non-existent levels.
What Is R-22 Refrigerant And Why You Should Care.
R-22 refrigerant, commonly called “Freon,” is a refrigerant that was very widely used for decades to charge both home and automobile air conditioning units. You should know that if your AC unit or heat pump was manufactured prior to 2010, there is a high likelihood that your condensing unit has R-22 gas. Even up until 2015, AC’s could still be shipped with R-22. This means that regardless of its age, you should know the refrigerant that is in your unit.
Why Is R-22 Being Phased Out?
In 1987, the United States became a signatory country to something called the “Montreal Protocol.” This Protocol recognized that, among other things, R-22 was indeed harmful to the environment and must be phased out and eliminated over a specific period of time. Political questions and debates about man-made global climate change set aside, the US Government, through The Environmental Protection Agency, is implementing and enforcing associated regulations in an effort to “heal” the Earths’s Ozone Layer by removing refrigerants like R-22 from all applications. This includes home AC units.
How Do I Know If My Unit Is Charged With R-22?
Your unit came from the manufacturer with a plate that lists the specifications of your unit, including the type of gas it is charged with. Refrigerant type is clearly marked on that plate. If you are a Right Now Heating & Air customer, we also keep a record of this on file.
R-22 Is Becoming Scarce And Expensive!
What used to cost dollars per pound now can now cost the homeowner hundreds of dollars per pound to recharge their system. This number may or may not include the labor!
The phase-out has been happening over several years now. With each passing year as production of this gas is systematically reduced, each successive year R-22 becomes harder to both find and harder for many to afford.
You May Have Some Important Decisions To Make At Repair Time.
Starting in 2010 most air conditioning manufacturer’s started manufacturing systems with the new, eco-friendlier refrigerant R-410AA. Even so, today the vast majority of residential AC units already in place still are charged with R-22. If you are a homeowner this means there are a several options you should take into consideration when you are weighing your decision to repair or replace your current R-22 AC unit or heat pump.
Here are some options for your consideration:
- Recharge the current unit with R-22.
If your system is in good condition with regard to other mechanical components, then this is certainly an option. You should have a conversation with your licensed HVAC professional about costs and viability of this option against the replacement option. If you decide this is the path you want to take, my advice here is to not ignore the coolant leak today. It will only get more expensive to repair the leak and recharge the unit next year (or even tomorrow!). By the way, most residential units require 3 to 8 lbs. of refrigerant for a full recharge while some larger units may require as much as 20 lbs. for a full recharge.
- Live with diminished air conditioned comfort in your home, or without air conditioning altogether.
Although certainly an option, in the hot summers we have in Southern Idaho, this may not be an option for many. Also, remember that if your system has a leak that goes unrepaired, even a small leak, it will ultimately result in complete refrigerant depletion and no AC for the home.
- Retrofit your current R-22 unit to run on a different refrigerant blend (often called in the industry a “Drop in”).
While you can’t retrofit an R-22 unit with R-410A, it may be possible to retrofit your current unit so that it utilizes a blend of other refrigerants. (We strongly caution against this! The more this has been done around the country, the more we see it is a BAD idea at every measure!). Before the unit can be retrofitted with the new refrigerant blend, it must be completely purged of any R-22 in the system. Additionally, the components necessary to retrofit older units, along with labor, can be expensive to the point where it makes more sense to just replace the old unit with a new AC or heat pump that is equipped with the new R-410A from the factory. Also worth noting is that the efficiency and reliability of these converted units is suspect and some units can’t be converted at all. IMPORTANT NOTES: Any remaining manufacturer’s warranty that came with your unit will, in most every case, be voided after a Drop-in has been performed. Also, in the event the Retrofit unit develops another leak, it will need to be completely purged of the refrigerant blend and recharged completely again.
- Replace my aging AC unit with a new system that is engineered and built with the use of the R-410A refrigerant.
As I mentioned earlier, if your current system has a refrigerant leak, and you are planning to recharge it with R-22 today, you should be ready for some sticker shock for the recharge. Even so, this may still be a viable option and every situation is different as are customer needs. You still have to look at the entire picture, though. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- How old is the system? All mechanical appliances wear out, and this is also true of your home’s AC system. These units only have so many run cycles in them. If your AC unit or heat pump is getting on in years, you can generally expect more repairs to come with more frequency. As major components begin to fail, like compressor and fan, your cost of repairing and maintaining that old R-22 unit goes up considerably. In the scenario where expensive components are failing, an added R-22 refrigerant leak strongly suggests it is time to look at the replacement option.
- Cost of energy. New, high efficiency air conditioners and heat pumps that utilize R-410A are also built to be more efficient than the models of yesterday. This greater efficiency can reduce your costs for electricity dramatically. When compared to older units the newer units may even save you enough in month-to-month power bills to actually pay for the replacement unit! An especially wise option if you plan to be in your home for any period of time.
Regardless of the situation you may find yourself in relative to R-22, I recommend you compare the efficiency, longevity, warranty, and performance desired, between your current unit and a modern replacement.
Netting Out The R-22 Discussion.
As a homeowner and consumer, you need to educate yourself on what the R-22 phase out will mean to you. It may be possible that your R-22 unit will last you to 2020 and beyond. If you have properly maintained your system year-after-year, your chances of this are greater. I recommend you consult with your HVAC professional now about your R-22 unit. If you have current concerns, call today. Otherwise, be prepared to talk about it at your next system maintenance. At Right Now Heating & Air we have trained our technicians and Comfort Advisors on the R-22 phase out and we’re prepared to assist our customers by giving them straight answers and options for moving forward with a replacement unit when the time is right.
Remember–The Law of Supply and Demand Are Already In Full Effect Where R-22 Is Concerned.
With each passing year there is less R-22 produced, but because most units in place today are still charged with R-22, the demand for refrigerant recharge increasingly becomes higher and higher as these units age and require recharge. When 2020 comes around (Can you believe it? Just months away!), economically sourcing R-22 will be all but impossible.
One More Question. Do I Have To Stop Using My R-22 Based Unit After The Year 2020?
You don’t have to stop using your R-22 unit after 2020. Your system is a closed system and so as long as you don’t have a Freon leak, you don’t have a problem. If your system develops a Freon leak, you will find R-22 gas difficult (possibly impossible) to find and then extremely expensive. Anyone experiencing Freon leaks on their R-22 unit, or other mechanical failures of that unit, after January 2020 really needs to evaluate the value proposition of the replacement option.
Information provided by Jeff Cox
Right Now Heating & Air