What You Need to Know About the R22 Refrigerant Phase-Out

The production and import of R22 refrigerant will be illegal on January 1st, 2020. That means, if your air conditioner or heating system was installed before 2010, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise next time your system needs a repair or a refrigerant refill.

Homeowners with a heating or cooling system that use R22 refrigerant will need to decide between a hefty repair bill or a total system replacement. 

If you fear your unit may be affected by the R22 phase out, this article is important for you to read.

Why is R22 refrigerant being phased out? 

On January 1st, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to ban the production and import of R22 refrigerant because it is deemed an ozone-depleting substance (ODS). The decision came as part of the international Montreal Protocol, which is a broader initiative to protect the ozone layer.

The restrictions of the R22 ban also made it illegal to manufacture or install new R22 heating or cooling systems as a way to make strides toward phasing the refrigerant out altogether.

Through 2019, homeowners have been able to continue using R22 refrigerant for servicing needs of existing equipment. However, homeowners have been forced to pay increasing costs for the refrigerant. The cost to obtain the refrigerant began to rise almost immediately after the ban due to a decreasing supply, and tighter regulations for acquiring the refrigerant.

Now, nearly 10 years later, the EPA’s broader plan to phase the refrigerant out is coming to a head. As of January 1st, 2020, even existing equipment is covered in the ban of R22 refrigerant. Additionally, repairs on equipment that run on R22 will be phased out.

How to Know If Your AC Unit or Heating System Uses R22 

Looking at the age of your heating and cooling system is the easiest way to tell if your devices use R22.

If your system was manufactured before 1996, it’s almost certain that your unit uses R22 refrigerant.

If your system was manufactured between 1996 and 2009, it’s most likely that your unit uses R22, but it may run on R-410A. To be sure, look at your unit to see if there are any stickers, markings, or labels that identify the type of refrigerant used. If there is no indicator of the type of refrigerant used on your heating or cooling system, call in a licensed professional, or your HVAC company to confirm. 

Air conditioners manufactured in 2010 or after should use R-410a refrigerant, because the ban was already implemented.

Options for R22 Replacements 

If your system uses R22, you’ll need to consider replacement options. Because the refrigerant that makes your system work will be unavailable, you’ll need to:

  • Retrofit or convert your older system to work with newer refrigerants
  • Purchase a new HVAC system

According to the EPA, the most common alternative to R-22 is R-410A, which is approved as a non-ozone-depleting refrigerant. R-410A also goes by the names:

  • GENTRON AZ-20®
  • SUVA® 410A
  • PURON®

Switching your system to work with R-410A is not a cheap process. Though the cost will vary by HVAC company and geographic location, expect to pay anywhere from $2,000 to over $4,500 for the conversion.

Unfortunately, not all systems will be compatible with a retrofit or conversion. Work with a licensed professional to understand the cost to switch your unit, and if it’s less expensive to replace your systems.

Purchasing a new system comes with a significant upfront investment—which is a hurdle for many homeowners. A new system can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 depending on your equipment, HVAC company, and geographic location.

Despite the upfront costs, replacing your system might make the most sense over the long haul. Old air conditioners not only use more energy than newer models, but they’re also prone to poor performance and high repair bills. For this reason, making the switch, albeit annoying, may end up saving your money in the long run.

Pro Tip: Check federal, city and state energy sites to see if they offer tax breaks for replacing and installing new HVAC equipment.

How to Make the Switch From R22 Refrigerant to R-410A

If you have a unit that uses R22 refrigerant, the best way to determine your most cost-effective next steps is to work with a licensed professional.

  • Call an HVAC company to come out and inspect your current system
  • Learn the cost to either retrofit or replace your system
  • Get a detailed list of new systems that would work best for your house

If you purchase new systems, work with your HVAC company, government, or private organization to arrange disposal of your old units. According to the EPA, “[Homeowners] are responsible for the safe disposal of ozone-depleting refrigerants in appliances, so they do not harm the environment.” Learn more at EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal program.

Learn if Your HVAC System Uses R22

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