What You Should Know About the R-22 Refrigerant Phaseout

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For those homeowners in areas like Valdosta, Georgia, where winters are more on the mild side, heat pumps are a perfect option. Your heat pump moves energy from one area to another as needed, depending on the season. It is able to accomplish this using a refrigerant, which absorbs and releases heat to heat or cool your home. However, due to environmental concerns, refrigerants are being phased out, and this could affect you.

Refrigerants that contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) contribute to ozone depletion. As a result, there is a worldwide agreement to stop the use of these substances. R-22 refrigerant or HCFC-22 has been commonly used as a refrigerant for several decades. As a result, most air conditioning systems use the R-22 refrigerant. Organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are working to eliminate the use of these types of refrigerants. This will have many implications for the purchase and repair of heat pumps, air conditioners, and other systems that use refrigerants.

Refrigerants and the Environment

In researching refrigerants you will soon run into a number of terms such as Freon, Puron, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, R-numbers and the like. But what do they all mean? For starters, R-22 refrigerant and Freon are essentially the same thing. Freon includes CFCs, and is the brand name for these products that are primarily used as refrigerants. The name “Freon” is well-known because it has been used for a variety of refrigerants dating back to the early days of air conditioning. “R-22” simply means “Refrigerant 22.” All refrigerants are assigned an R-number to differentiate them from each other.

An HCFC is a chemical that is composed of hydrogen, chlorine, fluorine, and carbon. It is the chlorine in that formula that most concerns the EPA because chlorine destroys ozone molecules. The ozone layer helps to protect all of us from harmful UV rays. Because of this, R-22 is being replaced by R-410A, which goes by the brand name Puron. Puron is a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), which does not contain the damaging chlorine.

The Phaseout Process

The EPA is gradually phasing out HCFCs such as R-22 refrigerant, a process which will continue until 2020. The process began with the signing of the Montreal Protocol over 20 years ago, but really started to have an impact in 2010. That year, the EPA blocked air conditioning manufacturers from producing any more AC systems that run on R-22 refrigerant. It then started setting annual limits on how much new R-22 could be manufactured or imported. Supplies of new R-22 refrigerant have already been cut to half of 2010 levels, and will continue to be cut until they reach zero in 2020. As a result of the phaseout, Georgia homeowners with R-22 air conditioners are faced with decisions regarding AC service, repairs, and replacements.

Higher Refrigerant Prices

As would be expected (or even intended) when supplies are continually being reduced, the price of R-22 refrigerant has increased dramatically. That expensive trend is expected to continue, with supply shortages possible.

Your heat pump or air conditioner won’t require any additional refrigerant when everything is working perfectly. However, as R-22 systems age they become more prone to leaks or breaks. Higher refrigerant prices directly increase the cost of heat pump service and repairs, which impacts the decision of whether it is better to repair or replace an old system.

High refrigerant prices also increase the value of regular AC maintenance. Because of the high monetary and environmental costs of R-22 refrigerant leaks, you want to catch such leaks quickly and prevent them if possible. Only a technician licensed to handle refrigerants should recharge your system and handle refrigerant leaks.

Replacement Refrigerants

The high cost of R-22 naturally leads many homeowners to look for a cheaper replacement refrigerant. There are some refrigerants promoted as replacements, including R-407C, R-422 and R-438A. The problem with any replacement is that air conditioners are designed to work with a specific refrigerant. The pressures and materials used in an R-22 air conditioner will not work as well (and may not work at all) if you substitute a different refrigerant.

That is why older units are not simply filled with the new R-410A Puron. R-410A requires much higher pressures than R-22, and will not work in older system unless they are retrofitted with new parts.

Replacement Air Conditioners

At some point, all R-22 air conditioners will need to be replaced, due either to their increasing age or the R-22 refrigerant restrictions. The good news is that new R-410A units tend to be more cost-effective than the units they replace. They use less electricity, are less likely to break down than older systems, and use a less expensive refrigerant.

If you have questions about the R-22 phaseout and how it impacts air conditioning in your home or business, please contact the experts at Ray and Son at (229) 686-5531. Our AC experts will be happy to help.