Brigham City — Modern House in Clearfield, UT

The R-22 Phase-Out and Your HVAC System

If you're like most Northern Utah homeowners, you won't think about your HVAC system's refrigerant unless there's a leak involved. However, that could change within the next few years. The HVAC industry is currently winding down its use of R-22, a well-known refrigerant once widely used in a variety of appliances and air conditioning systems.

The gradual phase-out of R-22 and other ozone-depleting refrigerants will have a deep impact on your present and future HVAC equipment choices. Read on to learn more about how the R-22 phase-out will affect your HVAC system.

What the Phase-Out Entails

The R-22 phase-out is part of an ongoing effort by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other international bodies to reduce and eventually end production of ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). In accordance with the Montreal Protocol, all new production of R-22 refrigerant will cease by January 1, 2020.

After 2020, any technician who wants to use R-22 must do so with existing stocks or supplies scavenged from older HVAC units and other appliances. As supplies dwindle, the cost of obtaining and using R-22 will eventually become too expensive and time-consuming, leaving those with older HVAC systems unable to maintain their equipment economically.

The EPA banned HVAC manufacturers from building HVAC systems reliant on R-22 in 2010 and closed a loophole allowing the manufacture of HVAC units dry shipped without refrigerant several years later. Currently, the only HVAC systems being sold on the market are units that use non-ozone depleting refrigerants.

Why the Phase-Out Matters

Numerous studies have connected the use of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and HCFCs to the gradual loss of the earth's ozone layer over the North and South Poles. Chlorine molecules released into the atmosphere by escaped refrigerants interact with ozone, converting the ozone molecules into oxygen.

Ozone is essential for blocking the sun's harsh ultraviolet radiation. Too little ozone in the atmosphere not only increases the risk of skin cancers and other health issues, but the buildup of CFCs and HCFCs in the atmosphere also accelerates the greenhouse effect. As a result, CFCs and HCFCs heavily contributed to global warming.

CFCs were eventually phased completely out of production by 1996. Unlike R-22 and its predecessors, modern refrigerants do not contain chlorine, making them non-ozone depleting and environmentally friendly.

How It Affects Your HVAC System

If you purchased an HVAC system within the last 10 years, then you won't be affected by the R-22 phase-out campaign. Most systems built within that time period were designed specifically to use non-ozone depleting refrigerants, with R-410A being the standard among most HVAC manufacturers.

If your current HVAC system is more than 10 years old and you have definite proof that it still uses R-22, it's time to start weighing your options. Each option mentioned below has its own set of perks and downsides, so you should do your research and choose wisely when the time comes.

Alternative Refrigerants

In response to dwindling R-22 supplies, the HVAC industry has come up with a number of alternatives to take the place of the fading refrigerant. Some refrigerants, like R-424A and R-438A, are touted as direct drop-in replacements that can be used in place of R-22 with little to no expensive prep work needed. These refrigerants are designed to offer a high level of compatibility with most lubricants.

Other alternative refrigerants, including R-407C, require the entire HVAC system to be purged of its original lubricant before adding the new refrigerant and its lubricant. Mixing incompatible lubricants can potentially damage your HVAC system.

Equipment Retrofitting

You can also have your current HVAC system converted to operate on R-410A instead of R-22. Both refrigerants are incompatible with one another due to differences in working pressures. An equipment retrofit solves this issue by replacing the original condenser unit, evaporator coil, and refrigerant lines with components rated to withstand R-410A's higher working pressures.

An equipment retrofit may be a better option if you've recently purchased a new HVAC system that still runs on R-22, but you want to enjoy the many benefits of using R-410A. Otherwise, you're better off having your HVAC system replaced entirely.

Complete Replacement

A complete HVAC replacement is the most expensive yet comprehensive option for handling the R-22 phase-out. Aside from being the eco-friendly choice, upgrading to an HVAC system that uses R-410A offers plenty of other advantages. R-410A transfers heat more efficiently than R-22, resulting in less energy consumption and better cooling performance.

Replacing your old HVAC system with the latest model puts you ahead of the curve when it comes to the R-22 phase-out. Not only will you enjoy better comfort, but you won't have to worry about tracking down the last supplies of R-22 several years from now.

The experts at Dick Kearsley Service Center can help you find the right HVAC system that meets your needs before the R-22 phase-out date arrives. Contact us to request service today.