One of the most recurrent service calls we get during the summer is an air conditioner blowing warm air. Often it’s because the air conditioner is low on refrigerant and needs a charge. Sounds like a simple fix right? Wrong.
In case you are wondering, R-22 refrigerant is a chemical used in air conditioners manufactured prior to 2010. About 25 years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered R-22 to be phased out because it contains ozone-depleting substances. This was done as a part of the “Montreal Protocol”, an international treaty meant to protect the ozone layer.
See the phase-out schedule below
U.S. Action to Meet the Montreal Protocol Phase-out Schedule
Year to Be Implemented
Implementation of HCFC phase-out through Clean Air Act Regulations
Year to Be Implemented
Percent Reduction in HCFC Consumption and Production from Baseline
No production or import of HCFC-141b
No production or import of HCFC-142b and HCFC-22, except for use in equipment manufactured before January 1, 2010
No production or import of any other HCFCs, except as refrigerants in equipment manufactured before January 1, 2020
No production or import of HCFC-142b and HCFC-22
No production or import of any HCFCs
So to answer the question of why R-22 refrigerant is so expensive, it’s because the demand is high but the supply is dwindling down, and as the supply decreases the cost will continue to increase. On top of that, the EPA has imposed extremely strict regulations on how HVAC technicians should handle R-22 refrigerant leaks.
Air conditioners manufactured after 2010 use a more environmentally friendly refrigerant, R410A.
What about using the new R410A refrigerant or another substitute in your R-22 equipment?
Since R410A is a completely different refrigerant it cannot be mixed with or used in an existing AC or heat pump designed for R-22. Other substitutes are usually not compatible with your system unless you make changes to the system’s components. Also, since most manufacturers have not approved the use of alternative refrigerants, using them will void your equipment’s warranty.
Refrigerant is not something that gets used up by your air conditioner and needs to be replaced. If you are low on refrigerant it’s because you have a leak somewhere in the system. Some leaks are easier to find than others and some are easier to fix than others. Either way keeping your old R-22 HVAC system is going to cost you more in repairs in the long run than if you upgrade to a new more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly unit.
Don’t worry, if you have a working HVAC system that takes R-22 refrigerant, you won’t be forced to replace it by 2020 but it might be a good idea to get a head start on upgrading your system before you get stuck in a heatwave with an old air conditioner leaking refrigerant that is no longer being produced. Additionally, the cost of repairs on a system that already costs you so much in energy use is just not worth it. If you are considering getting a new HVAC system, Right Now Air & Solar will give you a free estimate.