The Environmental Protection Agency's R-22 refrigerant phaseout has been making news and raising questions for many Chicago area homeowners. What is R-22? Why and how are they phasing it out? And how does the R-22 refrigerant phaseout affect you?
R-22 Phaseout Facts
What is R-22?
R-22, also known as by the proprietary name Freon, is a refrigerant. All air conditioning systems use refrigerant to produce cool air. The evaporation and condensation of the refrigerant within the system is the key factor in how air conditioners work.
R-22 is just one type of refrigerant, but it happens to be the one used in most home air conditioners installed before 2010.
Why is R-22 Being Phased Out?
R-22 is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon, or HCFC. HCFC chemicals are known to damage the ozone layer, which helps protect the planet from UV rays.
As long as your air conditioner is working properly, the refrigerant stays safely inside it and has no impact on the environment. But all air conditioners eventually wear out, which often results in the refrigerant leaking into the outside air.
The R-22 refrigerant phaseout was prompted by concerns over its impact on the environment, as well as the availability of new refrigerant types which don't damage the ozone layer. One such new refrigerant, R-410A, has become the new standard for home air conditioning systems.
How Does the R-22 Refrigerant Phaseout Work?
The R-22 refrigerant phaseout is a 10-year process, which started in 2010. As of 2010, no new air conditioners using R-22 can be manufactured.
However, that still leaves millions of R-22 air conditioners that were installed before 2010 and still need R-22 for servicing. The refrigerant itself is still allowed on the market for that reason, but with strict limits on quantity. Each year, the amount of new R-22 that can be manufactured or imported into the U.S. is decreased, with the limit for each year set by the EPA.
In 1999, which is the year used by the EPA for baseline comparison purposes, more than 300 million pounds of new R-22 were used in the U.S. In 2013, the supply is limited to about 60 million pounds, or one-fifth of what it was before the phaseout.
The R-22 refrigerant phaseout will continue until 2020, at which point no new R-22 will be allowed. The only R-22 available at that point will be recycled refrigerant captured from old air conditioners as they're replaced.
How Does the Phaseout Affect You?
If you have an older air conditioner that was installed before 2010, odds are that it probably uses R-22 refrigerant. If that's the case, the R-22 refrigerant phaseout will affect you in a few ways:
- Air conditioner service will likely become more expensive. This is a simple case of supply and demand: as the supply shrinks, the cost of R-22 will increase considerably. Demand is also going down, as older R-22 units are replaced, but the supply is shrinking faster than the demand.
- Your air conditioner will eventually need to be replaced. The rising cost of repairs impacts the decision of whether to repair or replace your air conditioner. And by 2020 there will be no new R-22 at all. Though there will be some recycled R-22 on the market after that point, the small supply may make repairs unfeasible.
- If one part of your air conditioner needs to be replaced, you may need to replace the whole system. Most air conditioners are split systems, meaning they have an outdoor unit and an indoor unit. Before the R-22 refrigerant phaseout, it was possible (though not necessarily recommended) to replace the outdoor unit without replacing the indoor unit, or vice versa. However, units designed for R-410A are not compatible with R-22 units. If you're going to upgrade one, you have to upgrade the other as well.
The R-22 refrigerant phaseout is not all bad news, of course. R-410A is better for the environment, and the new air conditioners that use it are often more energy-efficient. And the older air conditioners that use R-22 would all need to be replaced eventually whether the refrigerant was being phased out or not. The act of phasing it out just causes some potential inconveniences along the way.
If you have any questions about the R-22 refrigerant phaseout and how it affects you, please contact the pros at Comfort24-7. Our experts can service and install all types of air conditioning systems and will be happy to explain your options and help you make an educated decision.