For the past four decades, the refrigerant R-22, also known as Freon, a HCFC (hydrocholorofluorocarbon) has been the refrigerant of choice for residential heat pump and air conditioning systems. A recent Clean Air Act implemented by the EPA has established a schedule to phase-out HCFCs, including R-22, which contain ozone-destroying chlorine.
As of January, 2010 equipment using R-22 refrigerant are no longer being manufactured. Manufacturers of residential heat pumps and central air conditioning systems now offer equipment that uses ozone-friendly replacement refrigerants. Homeowners need to be aware of how these changes will affect them; from future availability of R-22, to potential price increases for R-22, to new ozone-friendly replacement refrigerants. Homeowners should take these changes into consideration when repairs on existing equipment need to be done as well as when they are thinking of purchasing new air conditioning systems or heat pumps.
The Clean Air Act does not “allow any refrigerant to be vented into the atmosphere during installation, service or retirement of equipment”. This means that R-22 must be “recovered and recycled (for reuse in the same system), reclaimed (repossessed to the same purity levels as new R-22), or destroyed.” After 2020, the servicing of R-22-based systems will rely on recycled refrigerants. According to the EPA, this reclamation and recycling should ensure that existing supplies of R-22 will last longer and be available to service a greater number of systems.
Existing units using R-22 can continue to be serviced with R-22. There is no EPA requirement to change or convert R-22 units for use with the new non-zone-depleting refrigerants. In order to change a system over to 410A it would need to change the condenser (outdoor unit), the evaporator coil and the refrigerant copper line set in most cases. Service technicians who repair leaks to the system will be able to continue to charge R-22 into the system as part of the repair so that this conversion would be unnecessary.
As R-22 is gradually phased out, non-ozone-depleting alternative refrigerants are being introduced to the HVAC industry. One of these substitutes is R-410A. This is manufactured and sold under various trade names, including GENETRON, AZ-20®, SUVA 410A®, and Puron®.
Another issue to be aware of is the possible price increases of R-22. The price is expected to go up as the supply of dwindles over the next 20 – 30 years. The EPA, however, believes that consumers are not likely to be subjected to major price increases due to the lengthy phase-out period.
The average life expectancy of an air conditioning unit or heat pump is around 15 years. What this means to homeowners, for example, is if you had installed a new R-22 air conditioning system in the year 2002, you will be able to get R-22 refrigerant for your system until the year 2020 when it will no longer be produced. Chances are, within that much time you will need a new system, so you shouldn’t base a purchase on Freon alone.
The new systems will incorporate compressors and other components specifically designed for use with specific replacement refrigerants. This significant change in both the product and production processes will require new testing and training. Consumers should be aware that dealers of systems that use substitute refrigerants should be schooled in installation and service techniques required for use of that substitute refrigerant.
Homeowners that have older equipment and decide to replace their old system should strongly consider purchasing high-energy efficient systems. Energy-efficient systems will result in costs savings. Today’s energy efficient air conditioners use much less energy to produce that same amount of cooling. According to the EPA, Energy Star® labeled products can save homeowners 10 – 40% on their heating and cooling bills every year.
This is a change that benefits everyone, including our planet. Homeowners just need to understand how it will affect them and to be prepared. You can go to http://www.energystar.gov for more information on energy efficient systems.
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