Don’t Lose Your Cool: What You Should Know About the R-22 Refrigerant Phase Out

Monday, December 29th, 2014

One of the big stories in the HVAC world in 2014 was the EPA’s finalization of the timeline for phasing out R-22 refrigerant.

You may or may not know that R-22, which has been used residential heat pump and air conditioning systems for more than 40 years, has been determined to contribute to depletion of the ozone layer. The ozone layer, way up the stratosphere, protects us from the sun’s harsh UV radiation.

Back in 1987, nations around the world agreed to begin a phase out of ozone-depleting substances, and R-22 is on the targeted list.

In October of this year, the EPA issued its final phase out rule for its goal of essentially eliminating the new production of R-22 by 2020. The agency announced a very significant cut (around 60 percent) in the production and importation of R-22 in the U.S. for 2015. The news shook up the market for R-22, and prices for the refrigerant went up around 20 percent.

The price outlook will become more clear in late January during the industry’s AHR Expo trade show, where producers traditionally release their price lists. There will be several factors influencing R-22 price over the next few years: the drawdown of stockpiles of the refrigerant; the availability of substitutes, and the fact that no new R-22 a/c systems have entered the market for about five years. So, basically, it’s a “let’s wait and see” scenario for R-22 price swings.

What does it mean for the average owner of a residential system? We’ve put together a concise FAQ for homeowners, based on information from the EPA’s web site:

R-22 Refrigerant Frequently Asked Questions:

My air conditioning system uses R-22. If I need it to recharge the system, how long will it be available?

Chemical manufacturers will be able to produce and import some R-22 (based on the EPA phase out schedule) until 2020, as long as it is used for servicing existing equipment. Also, after 2020, R-22 systems can be serviced using recycled or reclaimed refrigerant. Essentially, R-22 will be available for servicing systems that use it for the next decade or so–enough time to start planning for an equipment upgrade!

Are there alternatives available for R-22?

Yes, the EPA has a long list of acceptable alternatives for the refrigerant. Check it out here. Your Daffan Cooling & Heating technician can help determine if an alternative to R-22 can be used with your system.

Is it expensive to retrofit my system to use a substitute refrigerant?

It could be pricey and time-consuming to attempt a retrofit. There is no EPA requirement to convert R-22 systems to non-ozone-depleting refrigerants, so service companies will typically continue to use R-22 when recharging a system after a repair. Another consideration is safety: you don’t want to use a substitute refrigerant that could cause catastrophic (fire/explosion) damage to the system.

I’ll probably use my R-22 system for several more years. How can I make sure that I’m protecting the environment?

Make sure you work with licensed professionals so that you know your system is installed and maintained correctly. Properly installed systems will have a very low chance of developing refrigerant leaks. Also, a professional technician will know how to handle refrigerants and will recover, recycle and reclaim them as per the Clean Air Act.