R22 refrigerant: What is R22 and why is it being phased out?
R22 refrigerant, (also known as R22 freon and HCFC-22 freon) is a chemical used in both air conditioners and heat pumps to cool your home. On Jan. 1, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the production and import of R22 because of its particularly harmful impact on the ozone layer when released into the air.
Although some HVAC systems in existence still use R22 today, its use will eventually be eliminated completely in the U.S., so it’s essential that all current and future homeowners be prepared for the transition.
What is R22 refrigerant?
R22 refrigerant is one specific type of refrigerant, which is the main chemical your HVAC system uses to cool your home. Generally speaking, all kinds of refrigerants run through your air conditioner or heat pump, and they continuously absorb and release heat in order to cool your home.
Is R22 refrigerant still available?
R22 is no longer produced or imported into the United States, but it still exists inside some older HVAC units. If your unit uses R22 and runs out, HVAC technicians may still have access to the existing recycled or recovered R22 supply and can service your unit as normal. But, if you need to replace your unit altogether, you won't be able to obtain another R22-using system. Instead, your new unit will use a more environmentally-friendly R22 replacement, such as R410-A. (Don’t worry if you don’t know what that is, you’ll learn more in a bit!)
Why is it being phased out?
When R22 is released into the air outside, it depletes the earth’s ozone layer, which in turn contributes to worldwide climate change. Collectively, all of the emissions of R22 since its creation have resulted in an “ozone hole” over the South Pole, according to the EPA. In an effort to protect the ozone layer and slow climate change, the EPA is phasing out all production of R22 and other ozone-depleting substances -- like HCFCs, CFCs, and Halons.
The plan to eliminate R22 has been rolled out in phases, the most recent of which occurred on Jan. 1, 2020, when the EPA declared R22 would only be used from recycled and stockpiled quantities. The plan’s final stage is scheduled to be implemented on Jan. 1, 2030, at which time the government will officially ban the remaining production and import of all HCFCs. The goal is to eventually eliminate not just the production but also the use of R22 and other HCFCs altogether.
What kind of refrigerant is in your HVAC system?
The refrigerant type your HVAC system uses should be listed in your owner’s manual. If you can’t find your manual, try contacting the distributor or company that sold or services your HVAC system to find out the type of refrigerant your unit uses.
If all else fails, you should be able to locate the refrigerant type on your unit’s data plate. For central air conditioners, you can usually find the plate on the outdoor portion of your unit. For heat pumps, you can find the data plate slightly above the refrigerant valves on the back of the unit. Once you find the actual data plate, you’ll notice a clear indicator near the bottom showing what kind of refrigerant your system uses.
What if my air conditioner or heat pump still uses R22?
If your HVAC system still uses R22, you don’t need to replace or stop using your system right away. The EPA’s plan to phase out these harmful chemicals stretches out just over another eight years, so that homeowners can switch to environmentally-friendly refrigerants at a time that’s convenient for their system.
Right now, HVAC systems that use R22 can still be maintained and serviced by an HVAC professional with the existing supply of R22. That means, if your unit uses R22, you can still perform regularly-scheduled maintenance. Keep in mind, as the years of the production and import ban go on, the supply of R22 will continue to dwindle, which will make it harder to get your unit serviced in the future.
The EPA wants people who use HVAC systems with R22 to replace them with a more eco-friendly option when their unit needs to be replaced. There are no more R22-using systems being manufactured today. If you have one, the best thing you can do is keep it regularly maintained until it's time for a replacement, then switch it out for a different kind of unit.
Repairing vs. replacing a unit that still uses R22
If your HVAC unit is still functioning and still uses R22, you can continue to have it serviced as normal if a small maintenance problem pops up. A licensed HVAC professional will have the knowledge, skills and equipment to service your HVAC refrigerant. To service an R22-using system, your HVAC technician must be EPA Section 608-certified, which means they know the proper way to handle and dispose of harmful refrigerants.
As a homeowner with an R22-using HVAC system, schedule yearly HVAC maintenance and change your air filters on a regular basis. Doing so can help minimize environmental damage. Also, always ask your HVAC technician to fix any leaks in your system to help minimize the amount of R22 going back into the ozone layer.
Replace your R22-using system when the unit has reached the end of its lifespan. Systems using R22 haven’t been manufactured since 2010, so there’s a chance that, based on the lifespans of typical air conditioners and heat pumps, you might need a replacement soon. When you replace your unit, you’ll be doing your part to help the environment by taking one more R22-releasing unit away from the ozone.
What is the price of R22?
To completely refill your refrigerant levels with R22 costs around $180 to $600; to put that number into perspective, it costs between $100 and $320 to refill other types of refrigerant in an HVAC unit, according to Home Guide’s collaboration with 5 Expert AC Repair Services in November, 2020.
Most central air conditioners need 2-4 pounds of refrigerant to recharge, while a complete refrigerant refill requires 6 to 15 pounds of refrigerant, depending on size. According to the same Home Guide data referenced above, R22 will cost between $90 and $150 per pound to install, whereas R410A, an alternative to R22, only costs $50-$80 per pound to install.
It's important to keep in mind, the R22 price for you depends on a number of factors, including where you live, the size and age of your HVAC unit, and the amount of work an HVAC professional needs to perform. While these numbers fluctuate, R22 will always be more expensive, due to the government-mandated phase out.
Alternative options to R22 refrigerant
When it is time to replace your R22-using HVAC system, rest assured your new system will be more environmentally-friendly. The most common R22 replacement is R410-A, a refrigerant that does exactly the same thing, but without the ozone-depleting qualities.
R410-A is also sold and marketed as: GENTRON AZ-20, SUVA® 410A, and PURON® — all of which are EPA-approved for your HVAC system.
Retrofitting R22 refrigerant systems
Retrofitting an HVAC system is a more cost-friendly alternative to replacing the entire system. When an HVAC system is retrofitted, a licensed HVAC technician can install certain new or tailored parts into an existing system to fix minor problems.
Retrofitting an R22 refrigerant system is not an available option, according to the EPA. That’s because each HVAC system is designed to run with a specific kind (or in some cases, a specific few kinds) of refrigerant. If an HVAC technician were to retrofit, or essentially replace, R22 with a safer kind of refrigerant in an existing system, the system wouldn’t function properly because it's meant to use R22. The R22 refrigerant does not have any quick fixes that are certified under the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy.
This means, when an HVAC technician needs to repair an R22-using system, they’ll continue using recycled or reclaimed R22 and not even consider retrofitting as an option for the situation.
R22 was a commonly used refrigerant that is being phased out because of its harmful impact on the ozone layer. If your HVAC system uses R22, don’t panic -- you can still use and maintain your system as normal. But, when it’s time for your system to be replaced, you’ll need to upgrade to a more environmentally-friendly alternative.
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