If you have an older air conditioning system, you will have to make a difficult choice soon. Either replace your entire AC system or continue to use your current system but buy hard to find and expensive R22 refrigerant when you have your AC serviced next. With the change in standards for refrigerants used in AC maintenance and repair, the cheapest and most commonly used refrigerant will soon phase out. And after 2020, you will no longer be able to purchase R22 refrigerant.
Also known as R22 Freon, R22 refrigerant adds to the depletion of the ozone layer and is now considered a danger to the environment. With restrictions placed on R22 by the United States government, it is now required that the R22 refrigerant will no longer be manufactured by 2020. A safer material, R-410A, will replace it becoming the standard-compliant refrigerant for use in air conditioning equipment.
If you have an older AC, this means several things:
- You can purchase R22 refrigerant through after-market sales and continue to use it in your system.
- Expect R22 refrigerant to become very expensive as the price continues to rise, especially after the phase-out has been completed.
- Since R22 will be limited and you can no longer buy it new, there is no guarantee that you will be able to find the refrigerant when your AC unit needs a recharge.
- You can do a total air conditioning system replacement to model that takes the R422 model which may be the most cost-effective solution in the long run.
What does the R22 Refrigerant Phase-out Mean for Your HVAC System?
With this current phase-out of R22, many owners of both commercial and residential properties have been left with unanswered questions. Many people are questioning how this change will affect repairs to their existing AC system and want to know what their options are before considering replacing the entire system.
The most important thing to understand is that the use of R22 is not being phased out, just the production of R22. You can still use R22 in your current AC unit. Production of AC systems that used R22 stopped in 2010, but by 2020, R22 refrigerant will no longer be made or imported into the United States. This means that the price of R2 refrigerant will rise dramatically and you may end up relying on recycled R22.
While chemical manufacturers can no longer make or import R22 to be used in new equipment, they can make and import it until 2020 so that it can be used for servicing existing AC equipment. That means for the next 10 years, you should be able to find R22 to use in any of the current systems.
Alternatives for Using an R22 System
Depending on your budget and how old your current AC system is, you do have a few alternatives when R22 is no longer produced:
- Make sure to be diligent in the maintenance of your current AC unit. If you implement a regular maintenance program with a professional HVAC service company, you can reduce your risk of a refrigerant leak. This can also give you more time to start saving towards replacing the entire AC system sometime in the future.
- Replace the refrigerant and other critical components of your AC unit. Less expensive than replacing the entire unit, you can actually replace the R22 with a different type of refrigerant. However, you will also need to replace the cooling coils and condenser to accommodate these different operating pressures.
- Replace your entire AC system. This is the most expensive option, but it does have the advantage that along with a completely new system, you also get the benefit of any new air conditioning technology.
No matter how well you maintain your AC system, as it gets older, its efficiency deteriorates from basic wear and tear. And, the higher your system efficiency, the more you save on your energy bills. And, as electricity costs continue to increase, you may decide to start saving money now by replacing your R22 AC unit with a new model.
Continuing to Service AC Units Using R22
When servicing current HVAC systems that were made before 2010, it is safe to say it probably uses R22. Since there are no EPA requirements that state the units need to be changed or converted, you can continue to use and service these existing units with R22. It’s most likely that your current unit already has enough R22 to continue running just fine. The only problem exists when you have a leak and need more of the R22 to replace what you lost.
Since there is a limited production of R22 now, you will find the R22 refrigerant costs have increased and will only continue to rise once production is stopped. The best way to prevent paying the higher costs is to make sure your unit is maintained correctly to stop leaks. This can be done by doing tune-ups in both the spring and fall, which is usually a less expensive cost anyway in comparison to an emergency repair.
The cost of servicing your AC system will also rise as R22 becomes harder to find. To make sure you are able to make the most of the R22 refrigerant that is left in your system, it is important to have your unit maintained by a qualified air conditioning professional to ensure its efficiency and lengthen its lifespan.
Also, keep in mind how easy it will be to find an air conditioner service technician that is qualified to work on R22 equipment. With new technicians becoming trained today, they will receive training on newer models using the most up to date technology. Right now, this isn’t a big issue, but down the road, these technicians may be hard to find. It’s not a bad idea to start a service relationship now with an AC repair company that has technicians that are qualified to work on your system.
When you consider keeping your unit, remember that if your AC unit is maintained and properly installed, it will be less likely to develop a large refrigerant leak. This is true with any type of unit. Proper maintenance will not only save your money from repairs and replacing refrigerant, but it also lessens a negative impact on the environment. So, also choose a reputable dealer to handle refrigerants.
When retrofitting your current unit, remember that substituting refrigerants can work well in a unit that takes R22 refrigerant, but you will have to make a few changes to system parts. It is not recommended to use R410A instead of R22 in a pre existing R22 unit due to the high working pressure of the R410A. You can, however, have a certified professional replace the R22 condenser with an R410A condenser as long as you also update the system coil. This consistency in the refrigerant cycle lets you retrofit your current unit so you can use it for another few years. Remember to never use unapproved refrigerants in your AC unit as they were not created to handle flammable refrigerants.
If you are the owner of an older system that still takes R22 refrigerant, you have a few choices to make in the next couple of years, such as r22 replacement from Bluon Energy and various other sources.