2020 R-22 Freon Phase Out
While it may seem like an expense to replace an old air conditioner, it could actually be costing you more on your electricity bills and repairs if it no longer runs efficiently. And now, there’s another reason that the old system could become costly – the ban on what’s known as Freon, or R-22.
Freon has been used since the 1930s as a coolant in home systems. But its effect on the Ozone layer (a part of our Earth’s atmosphere we definitely need, to protect us from the Sun’s ultraviolet rays) has caused lawmakers around the world to start phasing out the coolant in favor of more sustainable options, like R-410A. While the process of phasing out CFC’s began with the Montreal Accord in 1987, the final stages are now approaching.
You may remember when chlorofluorocarbons, also known as CFC’s, were removed from aerosol spray cans like shaving cream and hairspray because they were depleting the Ozone. In fact, you may still see a label on many hairsprays, cooking sprays, and other cans that say “No CFC’s”. Well R-22 has CFC right in its name – hydrochlorofluorocarbon 22. That’s right, it’s one of the CFC’s, it has just taken a lot longer to phase out than your average hairspray.
Starting January 1, 2020, the United States will no longer produce or import the chemical known as R-22, hydrochlorofluorocarbon 22, HCFC 22 or Freon.
What will cool my house now?
A new coolant called R-410A (you may also see it under the brand name Puron, though there are different brands making it) is replacing R-22. It has an ozone depletion rating of 0 and also runs more efficiently. All HVAC systems built after 2010 use R-410A, so you may have been using it for years and not even known it.
What does this mean for my air conditioner?
Starting in 2020, R-22 will only be available in its recycled form. This will be more expensive, not only for the obvious reason that it will be much more scarce but also because the recycling process creates added costs. In addition, EPA-certified technicians are the only people who will be able to handle R-22, adding another cost to the process.
As the phase-out got closer to completion, from 2012 to 2013, the price of R-22 rose 300%. So once the ban is complete, the price is only going to continue rising until the chemical is unattainable.
If your air conditioner is older than 10 years old, it most likely uses R-22 as its coolant. As your air conditioner ages, it can develop leaks of its refrigerant and need to be repaired and refilled. As this occurs (or hopefully before), you will want to decide when it’s time to completely replace your system with one that doesn’t use the banned refrigerant, before repairing your old system becomes too cost-prohibitive.
How can I tell if my HVAC system uses R-22?
You can find out what type of refrigerant your own system uses by reading the manufacturer’s data plate, which is located in one of two places: either on the condenser outside or the air handler inside. What you’re looking for is something that will say either:
“For use with:”
And then it will list the type of refrigerant. Sometimes, the manufacturer will put a larger sticker specifically stating the type of refrigerant which will make it simpler for you to find.
Another way you can tell what type of refrigerant your system uses is if you have your HVAC on an ongoing maintenance agreement or service contract with an HVAC service company, you can call them and they should be able to tell you.
If you have a user manual for your system, the information you need should also be listed in there.
If you do have an HVAC that uses R-22 but hasn’t yet developed problems, you will want to make sure even more than usual that you are getting its scheduled maintenance and taking care of your system as well as possible to keep it intact as long as you can.
How can I tell if my HVAC system is low on refrigerant or leaking refrigerant?
One sign that you may need to fix a leak and top up your refrigerant, or decide if you’d like to upgrade to a new, R-22-free system, is if your electric bills are higher than expected. If refrigerant is leaking, your HVAC system will have to run for longer in order to accomplish the temperature it usually does, and you may notice an uptick in your electric bill.
Of course, an obvious sign is if your HVAC is blowing warm air. If warm air is coming from your registers, it’s definitely time to give your HVAC technician a call.
Coils circulate the refrigerant through your system. These coils are usually copper and can develop holes or cracks. If you hear a hissing noise coming from your HVAC, this can be a sign of refrigerant leaking and leaking quickly.
If you have a leak, you definitely don’t want to just have your refrigerant topped up. While it may sound less expensive in the short term, it won’t be. Especially with the increased cost of R-22, this would be like pouring money down the drain. If there is a leak, it should be fixed before any refrigerant is added. Ignoring a leak will just result in your refrigerant continuing to leak out and in addition, the leak or crack could get worse, causing you to need a more expensive repair or emergency replacement.
Do I have to get a new system, or can I retrofit my old one to use R-410A?
It is possible, but not recommended, to retrofit your old system to use R-410A rather than R-22. It is only recommended that you do this in certain situations, however, because it’s not as simple as just starting to use the new coolant. A certified HVAC technician would need to replace your system’s compressor, condenser, and other parts due to higher operating pressure of the R-410A – if you used it in your old system as-is, your HVAC would develop ruptures and cease to work. In most cases, it’s recommended that you go ahead and replace your system with one that uses R-410A because of the cost and difficulty of retrofitting.
You may have heard the term “drop-ins” in reference to replacing your R-22 with a new refrigerant you just “drop-in”. This term makes it sound a lot easier than it is and we recommend against it. In truth, the whole system will need to be retrofitted, as we discussed. And making changes to a system can often void the manufacturer’s warranty on it.
While the upfront cost is naturally a concern when it comes to when and if to purchase a new HVAC system, long term cost of repairing leaks and replacing increasingly rare and environmentally detrimental R-22, as well as energy costs can all add up. Talk to your HVAC service provider about your concerns. Many will have a variety of payment plans to help make it easier to purchase a new system.
Local utility companies sometimes provide rebates or incentives for people to convert to the new systems which can also help to defray the cost.
If you discover your system uses R-22, it is wise to discuss your options with your HVAC service provider as soon as you can. This way you can make a plan before you are faced with a leak and a several hundred dollar bill on a hot day.
Advantages of R-410a
Once you purchase a new unit that uses R-410a, you can look forward to knowing that your HVAC system isn’t contributing to the depletion of the Ozone layer, as well as having a more efficient system that will run more smoothly than your old one. Inside your HVAC is a compressor. A compressor uses oil to stay lubricated. HVACs that use R-22 use mineral oil, and HVACs that use the new R-410a use synthetic oil. This synthetic oil mixes better with the R-410a than the R-22 mixes with mineral oil. So this improved blend in your new system will help keep your compressor running more smoothly for longer. This can result in lower utility bills and fewer repairs for you in the future!
Hey, what about my car’s Freon?
By the way, if you’re concerned that your car’s air conditioner might face similar problems, know that while the average person still knows the coolant by the name Freon, automobiles have used a different type of refrigerant, HFC-134a, since around 1994. While more environmentally friendly alternatives can always be improved upon, HFC-134a is not threatening to the Ozone.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us at Bloomingdale Air if you have any questions – we’ll be happy to clear them up for you! You can reach us in a variety of ways depending on what’s most convenient for you – via phone or text, or, you can place a service request right here on the website!