August 31, 2022
 | 
By Mark Paup

What is R‑22 Refrigerant and Why Is It Being Phased Out?

Updated January 22, 2024

If you have an AC system that uses R-22 refrigerant (also known as HCFC-22), you might need to replace your entire system.

Why?

Refrigerant is a chemical agent used by your air conditioner to absorb heat from your home’s air and then dump it outside. Your AC system cannot function without refrigerant. R-22 is a specific generation of refrigerant that is harmful to the environment, so the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stopped all production and importation of it in January 2020.

You might wonder how this obsolete refrigerant is relevant to you. If you have an older system installed before 2010, it most likely uses R-22. We’ll explain:

  • How to Determine If Your AC System Uses R-22
  • How Will This Phaseout Affect You
  • What Are Your Choices Moving Forward

Below, we’ll explain the answers and how the phaseout might impact you.

Not Sure What to Do with Your R-22 AC System?

Contact Golden Rule at 515-393-4526! We can help Des Moines Metro homeowners determine if this phaseout is relevant to your AC system and your retrofit or installation options for moving forward that fit your cooling needs and budget.

How to Determine If Your AC System Uses R‑22

To verify if your air conditioner uses R-22, you can check the label on the outdoor AC unit. If it says “R-22” or “HCFC-22” in the FIELD CHARGED box, the system runs on the outdated R-22.

In the case of a worn-out or indecipherable label, you can contact an HVAC professional to inspect the system. They should be able to determine what type of refrigerant your system uses and your best options moving forward.

How Will This Phaseout Affect You

In January 2020, the EPA released a statement:

“In 2020, R-22 will no longer be produced or imported. After 2020, only recovered, recycled, or reclaimed supplies of R-22 will be available. The production (not use) of R-22 is being phased out. You are not required to stop using R-22 air conditioners nor to replace existing equipment.”

Why does the EPA care about HVAC equipment? R-22 is a “hydrochlorofluorocarbon” (commonly abbreviated as“HCFC”), which is an ozone-depleting gas. There have been industry-wide plans to phase out the refrigerant since the Montreal Protocol, a global agreement to protect the ozone layer, took place in 1987. However, R-22 was so widely used that it took over 30 years for the EPA to ban production and import to avoid economic impact.

Essentially, HVAC manufacturers are no longer allowed to produce or import R-22. Continuing to use an R-22 air conditioner is allowed but, as you’ll see, with difficulties.

As we mentioned in the introduction, having the right refrigerant levels in your AC system is vital for proper operation. Now that R-22 is no longer being produced, HVAC contractors have a limited supply of R-22 to recharge refrigerant levels for homeowners in the case of a leak. Contractors will then accordingly increase the cost of repairs. Eventually, the remaining supply will run out.

What’s next?

R-410A is a new generation of refrigerant that is more environmentally friendly and widely produced by manufacturers. While it’s not entirely harmless to the environment due to its high Global Warming Potential (GWP), meaning it can contribute to climate change if leaked into the air, R-410A is the next evolution of mass-produced refrigerant.

HVAC industry professionals and scientists are working hard to create and push out a refrigerant with a lower GWP called R-32. This refrigerant has a third of the GWP of R-410A and will enter the mainstream in the mid-2020s. If you’re interested, contact an HVAC professional to see when it might be available in your market.

What Are Your Choices Moving Forward

Homeowners have three options:
  1. Retrofit Your Current R‑22 Air Conditioner to Use R‑410A:
    While you cannot just use R-410A in an air conditioner designed for R-22, you can potentially have your current AC retrofitted to use R-410A.Why can’t you use R-410A in an R-22 air conditioner? The new generation of refrigerants can absorb more heat than R-22. Therefore, R-410A has a higher temperature and puts more pressure on internal system components—most notably, the compressor. An air conditioner designed for R-22 will be unable to handle the additional pressure, leading to breakdowns. Repairing a hermetically sealed compressor can cost as much as a system replacement.How does retrofitting work? To retrofit your AC system to use R-410A, a contractor must take the following steps:

    • Replace the condenser, compressor, evaporator coil, and refrigerant lines
    • Evacuate the entire unit of all refrigerants
    • Clean, flush and dry the unit
    • Recharge with R-410A refrigerant

    You’ll want to check with your HVAC contractor to determine whether or not retrofitting is possible for your AC system and budget. Also, check if retrofitting would void your manufacturer’s warranty if it’s still valid.

  2. Continue to Maintain Your Current R‑22 AC System:
    The least recommended choice is to continue to use your current R-22 AC system as it is. The supply of R-22 is dwindling, and its cost will continue to increase. The cost of a pound of R-22 refrigerant is more than double—even triple—the cost of R-410A. Recharging your air conditioner’s refrigerant because of a leak, which is bound to happen for older air conditioners, will become increasingly cost-prohibitive.
  3. Replace Your R‑22 AC System with A R‑410A System:
    As R-22 becomes scarcer, changing to an R-410A AC system can be more cost-effective than maintaining an R-22 AC.Compared to R-22, R-410A is more energy efficient as it can absorb more heat without needing as much energy, potentially lowering your monthly utility bills.Not only can you enjoy a decrease in operating costs, but R-410A systems can also cool your home slightly faster due to their higher efficiency.

    Depending on market availability, you might also be able to replace your R-22 AC system with an R-32 one in the future to even further cut down on global warming risks.

Call Golden Rule If You Have Any Refrigerant Questions!

If you have questions about R-22 and want to know the best R-410A air conditioner systems for your budget, contact Golden Rule at 515-393-4526.

We want to make the phaseout as seamless as possible for you with our 5-star customer service, flexible financing options, and one-visit AC installations. Plus, we offer some of the best guarantees and warranties in the state of Iowa.

Contact Us Today for HVAC Service!


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