Most cooling systems rely on refrigerants to properly adjust air temperature. However, these powerful substances can have dangerous effects when poorly handled. Therefore, there are all sorts of government regulations surrounding refrigerants. Some of the most recent changes have been the restrictions on R22 refrigerant. Starting in 2020, R22 can no longer be produced in or imported to the United States. If you have a system that runs on R22, you need to understand how these new laws will affect you.
Why Is R22 Being Phased Out of Use?
The phaseout of R22 is due to increasing concerns about the environment. R22 is a type of hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC). When released into the air, these compounds break apart into substances that can greatly damage the ozone layer. When this protective layer of ozone around the earth is worn thin, higher levels of UVB rays from the sun can enter. This has been linked to increased rates of skin cancer, cataracts, and other health problems.
Therefore, governments around the world have united to reduce the usage of chemicals that harm the ozone. As part of the Montreal Protocol first enacted in the 1980s, HCFCs are not meant to be produced or imported after 2020. Environmental experts predict the ozone layer will return to safe levels by 2050 if these measures continue to be followed.
How to Tell If Your System Runs on R22
Since R22 is being phased out, it is important to tell if your unit is running on this type of refrigerant. The good news is that most newer air conditioners are not running on R22 anymore and some older units may not use it either. As part of the phaseout plans for R22, manufacturers have quit making many models that require R22 to run. If your unit is built and installed after 2010, it most likely does not have R22. However, a few newer models were made with R22 refrigerant, so you should still take the time to check.
The simplest way to tell if your air conditioner is using R22 is to check the owner’s manual. You can often find this online, and it will tell you exactly what type of refrigerant is used. If you do not see this in the manual, check on the condenser unit outside. The nameplate on the unit often lists the type of refrigerant in use. If you still are not sure, you can call on an HVAC technician to examine your model. They will be able to figure out exactly what sort of refrigerant is in use.
Are You Still Allowed to Use R22 Refrigerant?
If you do have a system that requires R22 refrigerant, the new laws have not made it illegal. Rather, the laws are a gradual phaseout of R22, not a blanket ban on all R22 use. You are still allowed to run an air conditioner with R22 in it. The government will not require anyone to replace their air conditioner. If you have a leak that lowers your refrigerant levels, you can even still purchase R22 refrigerant to top it off.
However, the big change is that no company in the United States can make R22 anymore or import it from a country that does. This means that current supplies of R22 will never be replaced. As the supply of R22 drops more and more, you can expect prices to increase drastically. It may be very hard to even find a supplier near you that has R22 in stock, and if they do, it may be very costly.
What to Do About an AC System That Requires R22
If you do have an air conditioner that currently runs on R22, you have a few different options available. Your first choice is to simply do nothing, hope for the best, and handle repairs as they occur. Refrigerant levels should indeed remain relatively stable, so ideally, you do not need to acquire any more R22 refrigerant. However, damage and leaks can happen, eventually resulting in low R22 levels.
Depending on when your leak occurs, you may find that it is very hard to get your hands on more R22 refrigerant. At a certain point, repairs for an R22 system may actually be pricier than putting in a down payment on a new air conditioner. If you decide to go this route, you need to stay on top of regular maintenance for your system and accept that even a minor leak may require you to replace everything.
Technically, you do have the option of keeping your system and replacing the parts that use R22 refrigerant. This is called a retrofit, and it is not as simple as just emptying out all the R22 and replacing it with the safer R410A refrigerant. Different refrigerants are designed to operate at various pressure levels. A machine that was manufactured to use R22 will not work with other refrigerants until several other parts are replaced.
A retrofit is hypothetically possible, but not advisable. Depending on the type of air conditioner you have, it can be very pricey. Since it is a somewhat complex procedure, an inexperienced technician can make mistakes that damage your whole system. Retrofitting an air conditioning system usually voids your warranty and your unit’s safety certifications. This can make it hard to get help with the costs of repairs or sell the system to anyone else. The costs and challenges of a retrofit mean it is rarely worth it.
For most people with an R22-based air conditioner, the most feasible choice is simply to plan on replacing their system soon. Trying to purchase more R22 or retrofit your unit will just lead to you investing more and more money in a failing system. Trying to keep your old appliance because you do not like the idea of paying for a brand-new system may end up costing you even more than just buying a new model. Therefore, the most financially feasible choice is to just go ahead and replace your old R22 AC unit as soon as you notice any signs of trouble.
A replacement will allow you to get a modern, more energy-efficient air conditioner. These units are often cheaper to run, which can help to offset the cost of replacing your system. A new unit should run well for several years without breaking down. When your system does break, repairs will be much cheaper than repairing an R22 unit. Furthermore, many AC companies offer financing options for customers. This lets you get a new system now instead of having to save up hundreds of dollars first.
Your AC Experts Serving Greater Phoenix
If you have any other questions about the R22 phaseout, we’d be happy to help. At Plumbing & A/C Medic, Inc., our technicians are fully licensed to handle a variety of refrigerants. We can assist you with finding the most environmentally friendly options for your Gilbert home. Our helpful staff can repair, maintain, and install all sorts of air conditioning and heating systems. Schedule your next appointment by giving us a call today… and don’t forget to ask about available manufacturer rebates.