What You Need to Know About the R-22 Refrigerant Phaseout
For many years, one of the most commonly used refrigerants was a compound called chlorodifluoromethane, better known as R-22, and sometimes also called freon. This gas was found in every type of refrigeration device imaginable: from home air conditioners to car AC to freezers and refrigerators. In the last decade, however, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in compliance with the US Clean Air Act, has been working to phase out the use of R-22, due to its harmful effects on the earth’s ozone layer.
This phaseout has been gradual, with other refrigerants slowly replacing R-22 in recent air conditioner models, as well as other devices. As of January 1, 2020, however, the phaseout is complete: it’s no longer legal to sell or import R-22 gas in the United States.
There are several ways this can affect you. Read on to find out what you need to know about the R-22 refrigerant phaseout:
What Does a Refrigerant Do?
Before we explain the reasons for the phaseout, we’ll try to explain why, exactly, you need a refrigerant gas in your air conditioner. Refrigerant is the primary way your air conditioner keeps the air cool. The refrigerant gas is kept inside copper coils. This refrigerant absorbs heat energy, thereby cooling down the air that moves through the coils. An air pump then forces the air through the ductwork in your home, leaving it cool and comfortable on hot days.
All air conditioners make use of refrigerants, but there are many different gases that are used to achieve the same effect. R-22 has been one of the most common throughout the years, but due to the phaseout, modern air conditioners are more likely to contain a refrigerant like R-290 or R-600A.
The Environmental Effects
The R-22 refrigerant phaseout is a result of the effects that particular compound has on the environment. While the refrigerant gas is meant to remain in the air conditioner as part of a closed system, it will inevitably leak out and into the atmosphere.
R-22 is a compound that’s part of a family of gases known as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. CFCs are famously bad for the environment, but why, exactly, is this? The answer is primarily due to the presence of chlorine in the compound.
Refrigerant leaks out of the air conditioner in its gas form. As a gas, it floats upward and into the atmosphere. There, the compound reacts to the presence of ultraviolet light from the sun. It’s broken down into its component atoms, including chlorine.
The chlorine molecule reacts with ozone in the atmosphere and converts it into oxygen. This is what leads to deleterious environmental effects because ozone gas is what filters ultraviolet radiation from the sun’s rays, leaving them less dangerous to humans, animals, and plants.
When you’re reading about a “hole” in the ozone layer caused by CFCs, this is what it’s referring to: ozone gas being depleted by the chlorine content of refrigerant gases.
Ever since the harmful properties of conventional refrigerants were discovered, the search has been on to find a more eco-friendly method of cooling your home. In fact, for some years, R-22 was considered to be this solution, being more environmentally friendly than previously utilized gases. However, in recent years, as environmental restrictions become tighter, R-22 has also been deemed unacceptable.
There are several environmentally safer gases in regular use now. For example, propane (R-290) and isobutane (R-600A). Modern technology has also given us more energy-efficient air conditioners, which require less refrigerant and use less energy to cool the home.
What the Phaseout Means for You
R-22 was the most common compound in refrigerators and air conditions up until 2010. That means, if you have an AC unit in your home that’s more than 10 years old, it likely utilizes this compound as its refrigerant. In compliance with the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, as well as the US Clean Air Act, R-22 has now been fully banned in the USA.
Note that the ban doesn’t mean you’re required to get rid of your older refrigerators and air conditioners. Even if they use R-22, you’re allowed to keep them and use them until they break down. The problem, however, occurs when you need to have maintenance or repair: it’s illegal to sell or import R-22, so if your older model air conditioner needs more refrigerant, you may not be able to get it.
Over time, of course, your air conditioner will require maintenance, and if you can’t utilize the refrigerant it requires, you won’t be able to have it repaired. While it’s still legal to purchase recycled R-22, this compound will become difficult to get. Ultimately, you’ll most likely have to replace your older air conditioner models.
Replacing Your Air Conditioner
The R-22 refrigerant phaseout means that, in all likelihood, you’ll need to replace your old air conditioner relatively soon. It will no longer be possible to repair old air conditioners after they leak their refrigerant. You should therefore opt for an upgraded model as soon as you’re able to do so.
As we said, you can keep your old air conditioner until it completely breaks down, but this isn’t really recommended. Air conditioners tend to break down on the hottest days of the year—when they’re working their hardest. The last thing you want is to be left without AC during the most sweltering days of the summer.
If you want to have your AC unit replaced, contact an HVAC professional like the ones from Entek. They’ll be able to recommend an upgrade that will help to ensure your home remains cool during the hottest parts of the year, while also saving you money on your electricity bill and helping to protect the environment.