R22 Refrigerant FAQ 2: with freon going away forever, what happens to your air conditioning unit?

Since January 1, 2020, the R22 refrigerant (aka freon) may not be imported or manufactured in the United States anymore.

This leaves millions of homeowners with an air conditioning unit built to work with freon with a big question: what do we do now?

The issue is critical, but it is not as immediately critical as we hear on the market. Many homeowners have been told that R22 is now illegal, and they have to change their HVAC not to be at odds with the law. That is false. R22 refrigerant is illegal to import and manufacturer in the U.S. But it’s not illegal for anyone to buy R22 freon. And it’s not illegal to sell it IF you have a license.

As long as the stocks last, you will be able to continue purchasing R22 from specialized dealers and form your air conditioning company. Once the stocks are gone, you will have several options.

We have prepared the following FAQ from our experience and EPA recommendations. We hope this is useful to you.

 

BUYING & USING R22 REFRIGERANT

Can you still use r22 after 2020?

Yes, HCFC-22 (also called R-22) can be used to service existing equipment. Servicing includes replacing failed components.

R22 (also called HCFC-22) is being phased out worldwide because of its harmful effects on the ozone layer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had set January 1, 2020 as the date when manufacturing and importing R22 becomes illegal in the United States. Only recycled, recovered, or reclaimed supplies of R-22 refrigerant (HCFC-22) are now available to service existing air conditioners.

Source: epa.gov

Will I have to stop using HCFC-22 in my home air conditioner?

No. You will not have to stop using HCFC-22, and you will not have to replace existing equipment just to switch to a new refrigerant. The switch to ozone-friendly refrigerants is occurring gradually to allow consumers time to replace air conditioners on a normal schedule.

However, supplies of HCFC-22 will be more limited and more expensive in the years ahead as the refrigerant is phased out of production. Starting in 2020, new HCFC-22 can no longer be produced, so consumers will need to rely on reclaimed and previously-produced quantities to service any home air-conditioning systems still operating after that date.

source: epa.gov

When will HCFC-22 (or blends that contain HCFC-22 and/or HCFC-142b) no longer be available for purchase?

EPA expects that reclaimed and previously-produced HCFC-22 will be available well after 2020 to service and maintain equipment, but the price and availability may change. EPA anticipates that supplies should allow for a smooth transition to alternative refrigerants.

Do I need a license to buy r22 refrigerant?

Beginning January 1, 2018 EPA technician certification (EPA Section 608 certification) is required to purchase HFCs for use in stationary refrigeration and air-conditioning systems. While HFCs are not ozone-depleting substances, they are potent greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Source: epa.gov

Where can I buy r22 refrigerant?

At HVAC supply stores, HVAC service companies (like D&H AC), and online.

Are there any limitations on the use of HFC refrigerants?

Yes, only specific HFC refrigerants are acceptable substitutes for different end uses. EPA’s SNAP program maintains a list of acceptable refrigerant substitutes. It is also illegal to knowingly vent or release these refrigerants— just as it is for ozone-depleting refrigerants like HCFC-22.

Source: epa.gov

How can I find out what kind of refrigerant my home air conditioner contains?

The refrigerant used in your home air conditioner is typically listed on the unit’s nameplate. For central air conditioners, the nameplate is usually on the outdoor condenser. If there is no nameplate, check your owner’s manual or contact D&H AC at (520) 664-3699. If you know the manufacturer and model number, you can also call the manufacturer or check their website.

I own a home air conditioner that contains HCFC-22. How can I minimize its impacts on the ozone layer?

The most important step you can take is to maintain your unit properly. Major leaks rarely develop in properly installed and regularly maintained units. If your air conditioner leaks, ask D&H AC to locate and repair the leak instead of “topping off” your air conditioning system. Repairing leaks will keep your system operating at its best, while reducing refrigerant emissions and energy use. You can also save money by avoiding additional repairs in the future.

 

REPLACING R22 REFRIGERANT, SERVICING AN A/C UNIT CONTAINING R22 (HCFC-22)

What will replace Freon in 2020?

EPA has published a list of acceptable replacements to R22 refrigerant (HCFC-22) for residential air conditioning and heat pump units. This list includes alternative (older) technologies. Here is a version of this list:

  • Ammonia Absorption
  • Desiccant Cooling
  • Evaporative Cooling
  • HFC-134a
  • HFC-32 (For use in self-contained room air conditioning)
  • R-125/R-134a/R-600a (28.1/70.0/1.9)
  • R-125/R-290/R-134a/R-600a (55.0/1.0/42.5/1.5)
  • R-290 (Propane)
  • R-404A, R-407A, R-407C, R-407F
  • R-410A, R-410B
  • R-417A, R-417C
  • R-421A
  • R-422B, R-422C, R-422D
  • R-424A, R-427A (Forane)
  • R-434A
  • R-437A
  • R-438A
  • R-441A (For use in self-contained room air conditioning)
  • R-458A
  • R-507, R-507A
  • RS-44 (2003 formulation)
  • THR-03 (for use in residential window unit air conditioning)

The list published by EPA changes over time.

source: epa.gov

Is EPA technician certification required to service systems that use HFCs?

Yes, beginning January 1, 2018, EPA technician certification has been required in order to service stationary refrigeration and air conditioning systems containing HFCs.

source: epa.gov

How should I select an appropriate technician?

Work with reputable HVAC contractors that employ service technicians who are EPA-certified to handle refrigerants used in air conditioners. This certification is referred to as “Section 608 certification,” which refers to a portion of the Clean Air Act. When speaking with any air-conditioning service company, ask if their technicians are Section 608-certified. You can also ask a service technician to show you his/her certification card.

If your air conditioner contains alternative refrigerants, the service technician should be trained in their use.

May I use recovered HCFC refrigerants?

Yes, certified technicians have a few options when using recovered refrigerants:

  • A technician may recover refrigerant from an owner’s equipment and recharge equipment belonging to that same owner with the recovered material.
  • The technician can also recycle the recovered refrigerant, which involves extracting and cleaning it for reuse without meeting the requirements for reclamation. This recovered, recycled refrigerant may only be recharged into equipment belonging to the owner of the equipment from which the refrigerant was recovered.
  • The technician may send the recovered material to an EPA-certified reclaimer. Once the refrigerant is reclaimed, it may be sold and used for servicing any existing equipment.

source: epa.gov

How should HCFC refrigerants be disposed of?

Recovered HCFC refrigerants should be sent to an EPA-certified refrigerant reclaimer. Only EPA-certified reclaimers may reclaim and sell used refrigerants to a new owner.

Technicians and contractors may also send HCFC refrigerants to be destroyed by facilities that accept these substances.

source: epa.gov

How should I dispose of appliances containing refrigerants?

D&H AC takes care of this problem for you. If you are not in Southern Arizona (the region we service) but are located in Phoenix, Sedona, Prescott, Flagstaff, Show Low, WInslow, etc, you can call us to see if we can refer you to a reliable HVAC contractor in your area. If we know someone reliable in your area, we will definitely give you their name and phone number.

Many governments and private organizations also will arrange for curbside pickup of appliances. Do not tamper with an appliance before it is disposed of, such as by cutting refrigerant lines or remove compressors. EPA requires the safe disposal of ozone-depleting refrigerants in appliances so they do not harm the environment.

Can I add refrigerant to my home AC?

In most cases, you can’t. You need a certified technician to do this for you. Even if you have a window unit, it is better to let a professional do the job to make sure you don’t release freon in the atmosphere and stay within the boundaries of the law.

Also, if the level of refrigerant in your A/C unit is low, it may very well be that you have a leak somewhere in the system. Topping your system off will be a band-aid. It is much better and much more responsible to call a certified HVAC contractor to repair the unit.

How long does Freon last in a residential AC unit?

An air conditioning system is a sealed system: there is no way for the Freon to escape unless there is a leak in the system. R22 or HFCs or Freon do not get used up as long as there are no leaks.

 

OTHER REFRIGERANTS

What is R-421A?

Some alternative refrigerants are blended, which means they contain two or more types of refrigerant. R-421A is one such blend, and it combines R-125 and R-134A.

According to EPA

Benefits of R-421A include:

  • Ease of retrofitting. Retrofitting an existing R-22 system to be compatible with R-421A is straightforward. If the system contains a filter dryer, that component may need to be replaced.
  • No oil change needed. Most of the time, you don’t need to change the oil used in the compressor when switching to R-421A.
  • Faster fixes. R-421A is widely available and the retrofitting and refrigerant charging process is simple, so an HVAC service technician can fix your air conditioner quickly.
  • Better for the environment. As an alternative refrigerant to R-22, R-421A does not deplete the Earth’s ozone layer.
  • R-421A can be “topped off”. Once your air conditioner has been retrofitted to use R-421A, it can be directly added to your system. There’s no need to remove the existing refrigerant before topping off (this also makes repairs easier).

Homeowners with air conditioners manufactured before 2013 should note that retrofitting their system to accept R-421A does require some labor.

source: epa.gov

What is R-427A?

R-427A (also known as Forane® 427A) is another environmentally safe alternative to R-22 that doesn’t have a negative impact on the Earth’s atmosphere. Depending on where your HVAC service technician gets their supplies, this could be the refrigerant that the supply house carries.

Similar to other alternative refrigerants, the benefits of R-427A include:

  • Ease of retrofitting. Retrofitting an existing R-22 system to be compatible with R-427A is straightforward. If the system contains a filter dryer, that component may need to be replaced.
  • Faster fixes. R-427A is widely available and the retrofitting and refrigerant charging process is simple (though slightly more complicated than R-427A or MO99, as the oils needed are different), so an HVAC service technician can fix your air conditioner quickly.
  • Better for the environment. As an alternative refrigerant to R-22, R-427A does not deplete the Earth’s ozone layer.
  • Availability. Unlike R-22, R-427A is widely used in residential cooling applications. That means your air conditioner can be repaired faster if a breakdown occurs and you need to top off the refrigerant.

Homeowners with air conditioners manufactured before 2013 should note that retrofitting their system to accept R-427A does require some labor.

source: epa.gov

What is MO99?

MO99, or Freon® MO99, is an effective replacement for R-22. It matches R-22 in terms of efficiency and the amount of refrigerant needed in most air conditioners. It’s also compatible with the most commonly used types of oil (oil is used in your air conditioner’s compressor unit).

Benefits of MO99 include:

  • Ease of retrofitting. Because of their similarities, retrofitting an R-22-based system to accept MO99 is a straightforward process. In most air conditioners, the retrofit simply requires recovery of the R-22, replacement of certain seals, the addition of MO99, and a restart.
  • Faster fixes. MO99 is widely available and the retrofitting and refrigerant charging process is simple, so an HVAC service technician can fix your air conditioner quickly. A retrofitted system is also “future proofed”, meaning future repairs will be able to be completed quickly.
  • Better for the environment. As an alternative refrigerant to R-22, MO99 does not deplete the Earth’s ozone layer.
  • Availability. Like R-410A, MO99 is much easier to source than R-22. If your system uses MO99, your air conditioner can be repaired faster if a breakdown occurs and you need to top off the refrigerant.

Homeowners with air conditioners manufactured before 2013 should note that retrofitting their system to accept MO99 does require some labor.

source: epa.gov

 

REPLACING YOUR HVAC UNIT: IS IT NECESSARY? IS IT THE BEST OPTION?

Can I still purchase a home air conditioner that contains R22 (HCFC-22)?

As of January 1, 2010, EPA has prohibited the manufacture and installation of new HCFC-22 appliances. So, you can no longer purchase a central air-conditioning unit that uses HCFC-22. However, you can continue to service an existing HCFC-22 system. You can also purchase a “self-contained” system (typically, a window unit) if it is second-hand and/or was manufactured prior to 2010. Keep in mind that supplies of HCFC-22 are expected to become more limited in the years ahead as this refrigerant is phased out of production.

source: epa.gov

Should I replace my r22 air conditioner?

Since January 2020, an R22 air conditioning unit can only be repaired if R22 refrigerant is available on the market. Stocks of R22 will inevitably deplete but probably not tomorrow.

The real issue is not whether you should replace your old air conditioner because of the unavailability of R22. What homeowners usually don’t know is that the efficiency (measured in SEER) of their A/C unit decreases year after year, even when well maintained. This means that each time you use your A/C, it costs you more and more electricity to obtain the same level of cooling or heating.

The questions are then: “How much money will I save by replacing my old AC unit?” and “Will our home feel more comfortable in winter and summer if we replace this old A/C?”

The technicians at D&H AC can help you think around these issues. They are trained to make calculations of what your home really needs to be efficiently heated and cooled. They are trained in many different brands of air conditioners. They have the right certifications to assess the situation of an existing installation, and give you recommendations that make sense based on numbers, circumstances, and lifestyle. We will send you a technician qualified to perform all these tasks in your home, no charge. Call D&H AC at (520) 664-3699 and ask to speak to our certified technician schedulers in regards to replacing an existing air conditioning unit.