R-22, also known as Freon, has been the air-conditioning industry standard refrigerant for four decades, but this year, all of that is changing. As of January 1, 2020, the production, import and use of R-22, except for continuing servicing needs of existing equipment, has been banned.
The phaseout of this ozone-depleting chemical began more than 30 years ago when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took steps to limit its use in air-conditioning systems in favor of more environmentally friendly chemicals as part of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
This landmark international agreement focused on helping heal the ozone layer and protecting our planet from harmful ultraviolet radiation. Signed by 197 countries in 1987, it was the first treaty in the history of the United Nations to achieve universal ratification and is considered by many the most successful environmental global action.
The United States has been a leader in eliminating R-22 from residential air-conditioning systems. The EPA now recommends using R-410A, a safer material which is the current, compliant standard refrigerant in air-conditioning equipment.
Unfortunately, R-410A cannot be used in older R-22 systems. Michael Cross of Scottsdale Air Heating & Cooling said that his company replaces approximately 500 to 600 systems every year and that all of the parts and banned refrigerant are sent to a recycler or reclaiming business.
According to EPA reports, reclaiming businesses help support “the development of new state-of-the-art technologies to responsibly manage purification of refrigerants and refrigerant blends entering the market.”
“China has propane-based units, but the danger is that propane explodes,” Cross said. He added that chemists have figured out how to build these without being combustible, but it may take another five years before the technology is safe and efficient for home use in the United States.
Cross said the phase-out of R-22 has resulted in rising costs of the refrigerant when it needs to be replaced in older air-conditioning units. “People are shocked when they hear that they need to pay $1,000 to fix a leak in their air conditioning. If you have a leak, you are required to fix it because of the EPA regulations.”
“If the compressor breaks, it will cost you $4,000,” said Cross, “and you have to drain the refrigerant and refill it with reclaimed refrigerant,” which costs even more.
Cross said it makes more sense to invest in a newer system that uses approved and more environmentally friendly chemicals, which are usually more efficient and cost-effective.
Upgrading to a modern unit can cost between $5,000 to $12,000.
“It all depends on the size, capacity and technology,” said Cross. “Many of the newer units run on R-410A,” which Cross says is cleaner, but has some disadvantages.
“The fallout is that the units don’t last as long. They pump harder and work harder. They have become more efficient, but the newer AC units usually last 14 to 15 years instead of 25 years or more.”
Phaseout of R-22 and R142b
HCFC-22 (also called R-22) and HCFC-142b are the next two HCFCs that the United States will phase out. The process started 10 years ago.
January 1, 2010
Ban on production, import and use of HCFC-22 and HCFC-142b, except for continuing servicing needs of existing equipment.
January 1, 2015
Ban on production, import, and use of all HCFCs, except for continuing servicing needs of refrigeration equipment.
January 1, 2020
Ban on remaining production and import of HCFC-22 and HCFC-142b. After 2020, the servicing of systems with R-22 will rely on recycled or stockpiled quantities.
January 1, 2030
Ban on remaining production and import of all HCFCs.