R-22 Refrigerant Phase-Out: What You Need to Know

Person doing a check on R-22 Refrigerant

If you have an air conditioning system that was manufactured before 2010, chances are it runs on a specific type of refrigerant called R-22. Refrigerant, commonly referred to as Freon®, is a mixture that undergoes phase transitions between liquid and gas as it travels through your cooling system, removing heat from the air to cool your space.

Beginning in 2010, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and various other similar agencies around the world began phasing out 2010 because R-22 contains chlorine, an ozone-depleting substance. When the ozone layer is depleted, more ultra-violet radiation reaches the earth and causes things like skin cancer, eye cataracts and immune/genetic system damage. The R-22 phase out is part of the Montreal Protocol and as such most countries (197 to be exact) are committed to supporting the phase out.

The health of our environment has been a major concern for the last several years and rightfully so. Your friends at Wolff Mechanical are leading the charge among heating and air conditioning companies in Phoenix by doing everything we can to make sure that our customers are educated on what R-22 is, why it has been phased out, and what the alternatives are for anyone owning an R-22 cooling system.

Is R-22 illegal?

In short, no. However, it is now illegal in the United States to either manufacture R-22 or import it from another country. 

If R-22 isn’t illegal, why do I need to care?

R-22 canister and boxFirst and foremost, R-22 is bad for the environment. Wolff Mechanical will always encourage every customer and potential customer to do what is right for the environment, it’s one of the many things that makes us one of the leading heating and cooling companies in Arizona. 

Secondly, since the production and importation of R-22 are both now fully illegal, the remaining supply of R-22 is rapidly decreasing in the United States. Every time someone adds a pound of R-22 to their system, there is one pound less of R-22 on the market. 

Simple supply and demand economics have already caused R-22 to go up several hundred per cent in price, and the increased scarcity of R-22 will only cause the price to continue to rise, and history proves this. The R-22 phase out is not the first phase out of its kind. In 1995, R-12 refrigerant was phased out in favor of R-134a. 

Accordingly, R-12 refrigerant went from a couple of dollars per can to over $100 per pound at its height. Note that isn’t what your HVAC contractor would charge you, that’s what he or she would pay to purchase it, you could expect to pay a multiple of that. R-22 is sure to follow suit. 

Like R-12, R-22 also has a replacement which is called R-410a. R-410a is environmentally safe and a fraction of the cost of R-22 already, and that’s an imbalance that is sure to become more significant over time. R-22 costs approximately 4-6x more than R-410a already.

What do I need to do if I own an R-22 cooling system?

You technically need to do nothing. Your system is not illegal and so long as R-22 is still available in the market, it is not illegal to service your system with R-22 if you end up needing to add refrigerant to get it to work again. 

However, we at Wolff Mechanical will always caution you against that. Not only will you be spending many times what you should be spending on refrigerant repairs, but you’ll be setting yourself up for the exact same scenario next time. And next time is sure to be more expensive than this time. 

There is simply no argument to keep your old, inefficient system running on a refrigerant that is bad for the environment and illegal to either produce or import unless you absolutely cannot afford to make the change. 

What if I can’t afford to replace my R-22 system?

If you cannot afford to replace your R-22 system today, take heart in the fact that Wolff Mechanical can still get you cooling. However, you will need to replace your system before too long. Knowing that now, the best possible thing to do would be to budget for a new system and purchase it as a planned replacement, not as an emergency. 

A planned replacement takes place in the off season, which starts in October and ends in April in Phoenix. You can always expect to pay less for air conditioning systems in the off season than you will in the summer when there is a long line of customers ahead of you who waited and are now replacing on an emergency basis which is always more expensive. 

The supply and demand curve that drives up the price of R-22 as it becomes scarcer is the same curve that will drive up your price in this scenario.

 If you must add R-22 to your system, please ensure that the company you hire does a full refrigerant leak search and repair instead of just adding refrigerant to get you through the hot part of the year. If this step is done correctly, you should not have to keep adding refrigerant because a properly sealed system will not let any refrigerant escape. 

However, even a perfectly sealed system that is not leaking any R-22 should still be replaced. Refrigerant is just one of the many components that many need to be addressed when repairing an air conditioner or heat pump. Since the production of R-22 has now ceased, systems that run R-22 have as well. Your R-22 AC system is obsolete and obsolete HVAC systems are very expensive to repair, whether it be a cooling system, an automobile, or anything else. 

Can I remove the R-22 from my cooling system and just replace it with R-410a?

R-410A Refrigerant canister and boxNo. If only life were that easy! Unfortunately, R-410a, which is the replacement refrigerant for R-22, runs at much higher pressure than R-22 and they are simply incompatible. While you may still use the copper tubing that carries the R-22 between the indoor and outdoor components of your cooling system, it will have to be flushed out with pressurized nitrogen and a chemical flush such as Rx-11 to completely rid the lines of any trace of R-22. Your indoor and outdoor components, however, will all be replaced.

Do I have any other options at all?

There is technically an option for “drop-in” refrigerants for R-22. However, none of them have been universally embraced. Wolff Mechanical, like most reputable HVAC companies, does not support this initiative. These drop-in refrigerants, such as MO-99, are not readily available, there has not been enough history with them to know how they perform in the long term, and once a drop-in is used, you are tied to that drop-in. 

Imagine purchasing a home or business where the previous owner elected to drop-in MO-99 and did not mark the unit well or tell you that this service was performed. Your unsuspecting HVAC repair person could inadvertently destroy your system without this knowledge. These are just some of the many reasons to stay away from all drop-in refrigerants and move to the universally accepted R-410A systems instead. 

What should I do?

Not only is R-410a unharmful to the environment, but it is better at absorbing and releasing heat than R-22 and is therefore much more energy efficient. Your comfort specialists at Wolff Mechanical would be more than happy to come by inspect your existing equipment and give you a no-obligation, completely free quote on a new R-410a system that you can budget for and purchase when the time is right, as a planned replacement.