You may not know this, but for virtually every person in modern society, refrigerant touches your life nearly every day. That cold beverage from your refrigerator… the cool breeze from your home or car’s air conditioning vents… and even that warm air from your heat pump… all courtesy of refrigerant.
Refrigerant has been a vital part of indoor cooling systems since the invention of modern air conditioning. And chances are, if you are reading this blog in the middle of summer, you are doing so in the air conditioned comfort of your home or your favorite local coffee shop.
We use our air conditioner to cool our homes and businesses on a daily basis in the Summer. It provides comfort and a better quality of life. An air conditioner depends on refrigerant to be able to perform all these functions. R22 (also known as HCFC-22) is a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) once widely used as a refrigerant. If your home AC is over 10 years, then it’s probably using R22 as its refrigerant. However, R22 has been banned by the federal government in the United States, both to manufacture and to import. If your AC system uses R22 refrigerant, you might be worried about how that affects you.
There are environmental and ethical reasons for this, but those issues don’t address the question on many homeowners’ minds: What does this mean for my air conditioner?
We’re going to walk you through what the ban is, why it was implemented, and the implications for AC systems that use R22 refrigerant. If your air conditioner uses R22, you may not have to act immediately, but eventually, you’ll have to have a plan to deal with your system and transition to a new one that uses a different refrigerant.
What Is R22?
R22, a common form of the HCFC-22 chemical, is a refrigerant used for cooling air in air conditioning systems. A refrigerant is a substance used in a heat cycle that undergoes a phase change between gas and liquid to allow the cooling in an AC. R22 is just one of the many refrigerant choices available out there. Without a refrigerant, an AC won’t be able to cool your home. A refrigerant may also be responsible for heating the air where there’s a heat pump system. R22 refrigerant has been an important component of air conditioners in homes and offices for years.
Why Is R22 Banned?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has banned R22 in the USA. R22 contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer – which absorbs the ultraviolet radiation from the sun and protects us from its harmful effects – and the ecosystem in general. R22 leaks are highly toxic and can damage the environment, specifically, through causing ozone depletion.
In 2010, the U.S. stopped the sale of new air conditioning units that use R22. That means, new air conditioners in the USA manufactured after 2010 do not use R22. The ban on imports and production went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. This means that moving forward, the only R22 available in the United States is what’s already here. However, recovered, recycled or reclaimed refrigerant is still allowed to service existing HVAC systems but chemical manufacturers can’t produce new R22 refrigerants.
According to the EPA, phasing out Ozone-Depleting Substances (ODSs) is expected to prevent over 280 million cases of skin cancer, approximately 1.6 million skin cancer deaths, and over 45 million cases of cataracts in the United States alone. UV radiation can also harm plants and various ecosystems.
What Does This Mean if My AC Unit Uses R22?
If your HVAC system still uses R22, you don’t need to replace or stop using your system right away. Right now, HVAC systems that use R22 can still be repaired and maintained by Pro-Tech HVAC Home with the existing supply of R22.
The R22 coolant runs in a loop through the system. It doesn’t get used up like gasoline in a car. If there’s no problem with your AC, there’s no reason to add, top off, or recharge the refrigerant. You don’t need a “recharge” unless there’s a leak.
Is R22 Still Available?
Yes, but the cost is climbing rapidly as supplies diminish. There are currently supplies of R22 in the US, but no one has a good count on how much. R22 is no longer produced or imported into the United States, but as we explained above, it still exists inside some older HVAC units.
The EPA only allows certified professionals to purchase R22—a wise move considering it’s a dangerous chemical with the power to damage your AC if mishandled or installed incorrectly.
If you have an existing heat pump or air conditioner that uses R22 and it develops a leak, repairing it would involve “recharging” or refilling the R22 refrigerant and ultimately finding and fixing the leak. Pro-Tech HVAC Home can recharge it with R22, but supplies are becoming scarce, and therefore more expensive. Usually the cost of repairing the leak and refilling the R22 outweighs the cost of a new system altogether.
If you need to replace your AC unit altogether, you won’t be able to obtain another R22-using system. Instead, your new unit will use a more environmentally-friendly R22 replacement, such as R410-A.
Proactive Preventative Maintenance
The best way to avoid concerns over R22 is to have regular preventative maintenance of all of your HVAC equipment in the Spring and Fall. The difference between a well-maintained system and a neglected system is years off of the lifespan of your heating and cooling equipment. For you, it might mean the difference between getting 1-2 more years out of your R22 air conditioner, or 8-10 more years.
We speak to homeowners every day with R22 AC systems, and have heard almost as many questions regarding their use. Below we’ve listed a handful of common questions and their answers.
What does refrigerant do in my air conditioning system?
Refrigerant flows through coils in your air conditioning equipment. During the cooling process, it transforms between liquid and gaseous states. Depending on its state, it can more easily absorb or emit heat. By making the journey from indoor to outdoor air conditioning units as the pressure changes, it traps heat and removes it, before cycling back. The air in the system is cooled in this way, and is moved throughout your house through a combination of HVAC equipment and ductwork in your home. Different refrigerants require different pressures to operate efficiently, or at all. This, in turn, requires proper equipment to maintain the correct pressures at various points of the process.
Can an R22 air conditioner use a different refrigerant?
No, and it would be dangerous and inefficient to try. Refrigerants operate at different pressures, which necessitates specific parts and equipment to manage the pressure properly. An R22 system will not be calibrated for a different pressure.
This would also likely void any warranties you have on your existing system.
Other proposed stand-ins can be flammable, which an R22 system is not prepared to handle. The cost to attempt to retrofit your equipment would already approach the cost of a brand new system, and the potential dangers should further warn you away from anyone claiming otherwise.
Can I replace other parts in my R22 system that have nothing to do with the refrigerant?
Potentially, but since R22 itself is no longer being manufactured, manufacturers are slowing down production on associated parts as well. Some parts are easier to repair or replace than others, so it’s best to consult with Pro-Tech HVAC Home to assess your options.
How is R22 different from Freon?
Freon is a trademarked name and includes several refrigerants. Your contractor may refer to your refrigerant as Freon, but for the R22 ban, whether or not it’s considered an ozone-depleting substance is the important factor.
How do I know if my system uses R22?
Sometimes this is listed on the unit itself. Other times, you’ll have to look up your brand and model type online. If that step also fails, Pro-Tech HVAC Home can assist in identifying the refrigerant type.
What’s the best refrigerant to be using now?
The most common is R410A, which is more environmentally friendly than R22 and is actively in production in the United States. Other refrigerants do exist, some in experimental or testing stages, but R410A is what you’re most likely to see being used in modern units.
Replacing or Repairing an R22 System
Does this mean you have to replace your R22 system sometime soon? No, not necessarily. Depending on the age and state of operation of your air conditioner, you may still have several years of life left before problems arise.
However, that will change the moment your system springs a leak or another part needs to be replaced. Repair costs on older systems are often high enough that it’s prudent to consider replacing the system anyway. If a system has R22 as its refrigerant and/or parts are significantly more expensive to repair, this equation will quickly make replacement the right choice.
RELATED: Should I Repair or Replace My Air Conditioner?
For the thousands of homeowners who are hoping to get a few extra years out of their air conditioning system, the time to consult with Pro-Tech HVAC Home is now. It may not mean an immediate decision, but a conversation about costs, availability, and options now could save you time, money, and effort at a later date and avoid the massive headache of replacing a fully broken system.
If you need professional consultation to replace your R22 air conditioner, Pro-Tech HVAC Home is here to help! CONTACT US TODAY!
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