The EPA is phasing out the use of R-22, a type of refrigerant in air conditioners, because it depletes the ozone. Learn how this affects you and what your options are.
If you’ve been keeping up with the environmental news lately, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about ozone-depleting substances (ODS) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). But what do these terms refer to, and do they directly affect you? You may be surprised to know that, in fact, they do affect you, especially during these dog days of summer — and the summers to come. One of the main culprits? R-22.
R-22 and Why We’re Moving Away From It
R-22, an HCFC (also known by the brand Freon®), has been one of the main and most popular air conditioner refrigerants — the substance that cools the air — used in residential and commercial units for decades. Unfortunately, because of its widespread use, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that R-22 is an ODS, and therefore, needs to be eliminated. Hence, the EPA has implemented a nationwide R-22 refrigerant phase out as part of the Clean Air Act.
Alternative Types of Refrigerants and Uses
But if we can’t have R-22, are there other popular types of refrigerants to use? Fortunately, yes (although they don’t go by the “Freon” brand name). In fact, there are several ozone-friendly refrigerant options that are available and widely used today. The most common of them is R-410A, otherwise known as GENETRON AZ-20®, SUVA 410A®, Forane® 410A and — most recognizably — Puron®. As far as their uses are concerned? It’s simple: Perform as efficiently as possible as refrigerants without depleting the ozone.
The R-22 Regulation Timeline
Because of the ozone depletion that has already occurred, production of air conditioning units that use R-22 officially stopped in 2010. The EPA requires that the production of the refrigerant itself come to a complete halt by the year 2020. That means HVAC units that run on R-22 can continue to be serviced until R-22 runs out; however, as R-22 supplies dwindle, the costs will continue to rise.
What This Means for Homeowners
If your A/C unit uses R-22, it’s time to start considering your options. Sure, you can continue to get your A/C serviced until R-22 supplies are depleted, but there’s no telling just how high the price of R-22 will soar to before it’s gone. It’s also not environmentally sound to ignore an R-22 leak, considering why the EPA is regulating the refrigerant to begin with.
One option is to have your unit retrofitted to begin functioning with an alternative refrigerant, like R-410A. The process is somewhat involved, though, and requires a professional who is “Section 608–certified” (that is, EPA-certified to handle refrigerants properly).
Your best bet? A total system replacement, especially if your current unit is already at least 10 years old and you’ve been consistently experiencing cooling issues and higher energy bills. Yes, it’s one of those investments that homeowners hate to make, but when it’s all said and done, you’ll have a new unit that isn’t just ozone-friendly — it’s also more energy efficient, too.
INSIDER TIP: If you’re smart enough to have a home warranty, you may be able to take advantage of some budget-saving options related to the regulation.
Related: Is it Time to Upgrade Your AC?
Want to learn more about the EPA’s R-22 regulation? Check out our other articles in the “Clearing the Air” series about the differences between R-22 and R-410A and what it takes to transition out of R-22.