Does your home have some type of air conditioning? If so, you should be aware of a regulatory deadline that could impact your ability to repair it in the future, or even require a full system replacement. The problem is with the ozone-depleting refrigerant chlorodifluoromethane, also known as Freon.
The most common version of Freon in recent years is known as R-22. Due to updated environmental regulations, domestic chemical manufacturers cannot produce new R-22 and it may not be imported. Remaining supplies of new R-22 may be used to maintain existing equipment. However, after 2020 – in less than three years, only recycled, reclaimed, or previously produced R-22 may be used. So where does that leave you? The short answer is: it depends.
There are several important factors that will ultimately determine your course of action. As a provider of air conditioner systems and service in the Charlotte area for the past 46 years, we want our neighbors to understand their options. First, let’s answer a few clarifying questions.
CAN I STILL PURCHASE NEW AIR CONDITIONERS CONTAINING R-22?
No. Beginning in 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prohibited manufacturing and installation of any new R-22 appliances, including central air conditioning systems. You may continue servicing existing R-22 systems and purchase “self-contained” systems (like a window unit) second-hand or units produced prior to 2010. Supplies of R-22 are already becoming scarce, and the cost is only going up. Since it no longer produced, consumers will have to rely on reclaimed and previously-produced quantities to maintain any R-22 home air conditioning systems still operating after that date.
WILL I HAVE TO STOP USING R-22 IN MY HOME AIR CONDITIONER?
No. The environmental regulations do not forbid the continued use of consumer or commercial air conditioning units using R-22 after 2020. This change regarding R-22 is nothing new and the industry has been preparing for it for several years. Equipment manufacturers, refrigerant suppliers and distributors have all been preparing for this cutoff date by developing alternatives to R-22 and more eco friendly AC units.
WHAT REFRIGERANTS ARE AVAILABLE NOW FOR HOME AIR CONDITIONERS THAT DO NOT HARM THE OZONE LAYER?
There are several refrigerants available today and in wide use across many consumer and commercial applications. The most common alternative is R-410A, which is known by its trade names GENETRON AZ-20®, SUVA 410A®, Forane® 410A, and Puron®.
However, all refrigerants have limitations and there is no one replacement or retrofit refrigerant with the R-22. The limitations are typically in the form of tradeoffs in capacity, efficiency, higher pressure, or flammability and any one of the refrigerants could be higher or lower in each of these categories. Also, there is no replacement that can be mixed with current R-22 in any system. Mixing refrigerants ultimately degrades the system’s performance and ruins any opportunity for pure R-22 reclamation.
HOW CAN I DETERMINE THE TYPE OF REFRIGERANT MY HOME AIR CONDITIONER USES?
The refrigerant type used in a home air conditioner is typically listed on the unit’s nameplate which is on the outdoor condenser. Reviewing the owner’s manual, contacting the sales person or company that sold or services the air conditioner, or the manufacturer with the model number are other ways to determine which refrigerant the system uses. Manufacturer websites may also provide this information.
AIR CONDITIONING CROSSROADS
Despite how serious this impending deadline may sound, there is no need to panic. Consumers, homeowners and commercial customers have several options going forward, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately it comes down to one of these three main alternatives. Depending on your specific situation, one may emerge as the clear choice. This is where One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning’s extensive experience and knowledge will benefit you.
Ripping out a home’s entire central air conditioning system is enough to make any homeowner’s bank account and blood run cold. One option is to replace a broken R22-compatible compressor in the outdoor unit with the same or similar working model. EPA regulations permit owners of existing R-22 home air conditioners to replace their condensing unit with a new one if it breaks or is damaged. Although this solves the immediate problem, it still leaves you dependent on the future availability and increasing cost of R22 refrigerant. Consider this option a temporary fix.
Planned retrofits are always better than emergency retrofits. Since most homeowners cannot afford to purchase new equipment without significant lead time, a planned system upgrade is better than incurring an unplanned expense when the system fails. Enhancing your current unit with a high-grade retrofit has the advantage of increased potential energy savings while improving the unit’s efficiency quotient. Swapping out the entire outdoor unit but leaving the older indoor components in place only works if the indoor coils are compatible with the newer R410A. Many units manufactured after 2005 are compatible with both R-22 and the more eco friendly refrigerant alternative–R410A.
Today’s more eco friendly AC units use significantly less energy, have reduced maintenance costs and offer a green alternative to older R-22 units. While repairs and retrofits may provide short and mid-term solutions, older systems also require more maintenance over time and keep you dependent on R-22. Sometimes, the most cost-effective option is a total replacement of your entire air conditioning system with a more eco friendly AC unit. You might consider taking this step if your current system has these characteristics:
- It is 12 years old or older
- Has inconsistent cooling performance
- Increasing energy consumption – i.e. rising utility bills
- Requires more maintenance – i.e. 3 or more major repairs
Our experienced technicians can evaluate all of these variables to help you understand if replacing your air conditioning system with a more eco friendly AC unit is the right step for you now, or in the near future.
One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning® of Charlotte has been serving the community for nearly 45 years with EPA, 608-certified and experienced technicians. We provide professional HVAC services for residential clients in the greater Charlotte, North Carolina area. Contact us 24 hours a day, seven days a week for information about greener refrigerants, eco friendly AC units, and the pros and cons of upgrading versus replacement and the eventual impact of the government’s new regulations on your home’s air conditioning system.