In an effort to protect the Earth's ozone layer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has started phasing out certain synthetic chemicals like HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons). This group of chemicals includes R22 Freon® (often referred to as simply R-22), which is commonly used as a refrigerant for air conditioning systems. Now homeowners are asking how this will impact their air conditioning systems. Here’s what you need to know about the phase-out process and what it might mean for you.
A Little Bit of R22 Freon History
There was a time when HCFCs, including R22 Freon, were thought to be the safest refrigerants for use in ACs. HCFCs are nontoxic, noncorrosive, and nonflammable, which is good for homes, but it turned out they’re as bad for the ozone layer as CFCs. Now HCFCs are being gradually phased out, with most production and importing stopped by 2020 and all production and importing ending by 2030.
What Does That Mean if Your Unit is Using R22 Freon?
Despite the phase-out timeline published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), homeowners don’t have to worry about replacing their current HVAC systems that use R22 Freon.
For one thing, according to the Department of Energy, R-22 will still be available because it can be recovered and recycled from old systems that are taken out of service.
The EPA also says homeowners won’t be required to stop using a unit that uses R-22 or get it modified to use a new, ozone-safe refrigerant. By the time the lengthy phase-out period ends, they expect most people will have already replaced their old R22 Freon AC units. And since newer units are being made that use only ozone-friendly refrigerants, they will dominate the market by the time the phase-out period ends.
But I'll Eventually Have to Do Something, Right?
Even if they’re not required to update or replace their AC systems, lots of homeowners prefer to get ahead of the game or are increasingly concerned with being environmentally conscious. So, to learn what all the options are, we talked with Stay Comfy’s resident HVAC expert, Keith Hill. Here’s what we learned.
If It’s Not Broken…
There’s really no need to do anything immediate, especially if your AC is in good working condition and is less than 10 years old. According to Keith, “If your existing AC system is working fine and is leak free, then leave it be. There is no requirement to upgrade and the process to upgrade costs money and will likely reduce capacity slightly and reduce efficiency.”
However, if your system has sprung some leaks, and especially if it has done so several times, you may want to consider replacing the refrigerant entirely.
Replacements for R22 Freon
There are basically two categories of R22 replacements. “Many alternate refrigerants require changing the oil in the system, which is a big job and not practical on a residential unit. They may also require changing some of the components that affect refrigerant flow,” Keith says.
The second category of replacements, however, is less complicated. Keith mentions “there are new substitutes such as R422D, which are made to be drop-in refrigerants.” A drop-in refrigerant does not require removal of the oil or changing out any system components. It just requires removal of the R22 Freon and addition of the new refrigerant. This might be a good option for you if, as Keith points out, “you have a chronic leaker that you are trying to keep alive for a few more years.”
Your Warranty Could Be Affected
If you’re considering an R22 Freon upgrade, you’ll want to be sure to check with your unit’s manufacturer. Changing out your refrigerant could impact your manufacturer’s warranty. Better to check ahead of time than be sorry later.
It Takes a Pro
Keep in mind that any AC refrigerant upgrade requires professional servicing. Keith explains, “not only is it complicated to confirm the correct charge and requires specialized equipment, but it’s required by federal law that the technician have an EPA refrigeration certification.”
When It’s Time to Replace Your Aging System
While experts vary in their estimates, most will say 12-15 years is an average lifespan for a central AC system. So if your system is hitting the 10-year mark, you may want to start thinking about and planning for eventual replacement.
The new energy-efficient models all use environmentally sound refrigerants. Carrier, for example, has engineered an entire line of heating and cooling products that uses Puron, a chlorine-free refrigerant. Plus, switching to a high-efficiency system and taking other actions to keep your home cool could reduce energy use for air conditioning by 20 to 50 percent, according to the Department of Energy.
If you’re ready to look at replacing your AC, or you’re just thinking that changing out your R22 Freon is an option for you, check out our convenient dealer locator for qualified HVAC professionals in your area.
Freon® is a registered trademark of The Chemours Company FC, LLC.