If you recently saw your kids head off to start a new school year, maybe leaving their elementary schools behind to join the ranks at either John Barrett or Winston Churchill Middle School, it may have left you a little sentimental, reflecting on their childhood, and how they have grown up over the years in the house your family calls home. Of course, while your children have aged, so has your home—including your HVAC unit. And, if your system’s older than your middle school children, it probably uses a refrigerant known as R-22.
Most tract houses built before 2010 have air conditioning units equipped with a type of refrigerant in the cooling and heating coils called R-22, or more commonly known as Freon. You probably think about Freon most when you think about your car air conditioner, but it’s also the stuff inside your home’s AC unit. Direct exposure to it can make you sick, which is why we usually leave it to the experts to deal with it. But even though it might be out of sight and out of mind for you, it’s probably time to start thinking about your options when it comes to R-22—because it will soon be phased out.
Why Is the EPA Phasing Out R-22 Refrigerant?
Protecting the environment is a hot topic these days—everyone from scientists to politicians to the mainstream media is talking about it. And more and more regulations are being placed on various industries to help prevent damage to our environment from things like greenhouse gases.
The R-22 refrigerant found in many older tract home’s HVAC units is one of those greenhouse gases getting tons of press. It’s a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) that has ozone depleting—and global warming—potential. That’s why it’s being phased out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in stages over the next few years—and why now is the time to think about how your unit stacks up against the current regulations.
Deadlines for Buying R-22 Refrigerant
While everyone wants to do their part, it takes time and money to make environmentally friendly changes in your home. Air conditioners are a big household expense, so replacing one is easier said than done, especially if the unit still works great. Luckily, the EPA has created a schedule to allow a slow phase out of R-22 so homeowners and contractors can plan ahead without feeling the financial pressure to make a hasty decision. The current phase out schedule is:
- January 1, 2010: The manufacturing of R-22 and all equipment using R-22 ended. This means that the next time you replace your AC, the new unit will run on a more efficient and eco-friendly refrigerant.
- January 1, 2015: Only 22 million pounds of R-22 are allowed to be imported each year from 2015 to 2020. So, if you need to have your old unit serviced, you might have trouble finding a supplier. Also, since the supply is now so low, the price will probably be much higher.
- January 1, 2020: A complete ban on the import and sale of R-22 will go into effect in 2020. If you’re still using an old unit that has R-22 refrigerant by then, you won’t be able to have the refrigerant area of your unit serviced. I recommend that homeowners start thinking about their strategy for either replacing or retrofitting their unit for a new refrigerant as soon as possible so this doesn’t catch them off guard.
I should also mention that finding a service technician to help with R-22 refrigerant will also become more difficult—regulations for HVAC companies are getting tighter as well. With just over three years left until the complete ban of R-22, it’s safe to say that now is the time to come up with an HVAC action plan for your old unit.
Action Plans for the R-22 Refrigerant Phase Out
Now that you have the facts about the R-22 phase out, you may be wondering what your options are. Here are three choices I have been recommending to my clients:
- Total system replacement: If you can afford to replace your whole system, including your indoor unit, outdoor unit, piping, and electrical work, this is the best long-term solution. Replacing the entire system at one time will mean it functions as seamlessly as possible, so it won’t wear out as quickly. And, it’ll be specially designed to work with the new, safer refrigerants like R410A, which doesn’t contribute to ozone depletion. The new refrigerants are also more efficient—and a more efficient refrigerant means a more efficient unit that will save you money on your monthly bills.
- Outdoor and Indoor Unit Replacement: You can upgrade your unit’s cooling and heating system, but keep the old piping and electrical portions, like wiring and your electrical box, to save some money over a whole system replacement. While more cost effective upfront, retrofitting can sometimes create problems down the line if not done properly—combining old and new components of an AC or heating unit can be tricky and should be left to HVAC experts. You also might not see your system working at its peak, as inefficiencies in your electrical box, for example, can create inefficiencies in your overall system.
- Drop-In Refrigerants: The least costly approach to the R-22 phase out is to use a compatible alternative to R-22 in your system until you can consider replacing it. Mineral oil-based refrigerants are designed to temporarily take the place of R-22, and are ozone friendly. But they aren’t a long-term solution because the truth is your system was not designed to run on them in the first place, so they’ll eventually begin to create unnecessary wear and tear on your unit.
This is a busy time of year, and Carmichael residents are enjoying all the fall activities, like the upcoming Holiday Craft Faire at Gibbons Park Community Center and the Falling Leaves Craft Festival—both favorite events around town. But with the temperatures getting milder, this is a great time to get in touch with your local HVAC professional about servicing or replacing your old AC unit, or your entire system.
The final phase out stage of R-22 is still several years away, so it’s tempting to focus on the start of the school year and the joys of family holiday celebrations, but as we all know, time flies—and I don’t want you and your HVAC system to be caught unaware. 2020 isn’t as far away in the distant future as it seems.
If your HVAC system is ten years or older, now is a great time to consult the friendly, trusted professionals at Bell Brothers about phasing out your old R-22-reliant unit for a newer, more efficient model.