BARBERTON, OH (December 2009) – The refrigerant R-22 (also known as freon) has been the refrigerant of choice for residential heat pump and air conditioning systems for over four decades. As of January 2010 this refrigerant, a HCFC (hydrochlorofluorocarbon) will not be allowed to be used in new equipment. The Title VI of the Clean Air Act implemented by the EPA has established a schedule to phaseout HCFCs that contain ozone-destroying chlorine. Since the manufacture of R-22 is being phased out over the coming years as part of the agreement to end production of HCFCs, manufacturers of residential air conditioning systems are offering equipment that uses ozone-friendly refrigerants.

Through this transition it is important for homeowners to understand the future availability, replacement refrigerants, and price considerations of R-22, as well as what homeowners should know when having an existing system repaired or when purchasing a new A/C system or heat pump.

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 fact, when a system is changed over to 410A it would need to change the condenser (outdoor unit), the evaporator coil and the refrigerant copper line set in most cases. Therefore, service technicians who repair leaks to the system will continue to charge R-22 into the system as part of the repair.

Substitutions will be made available in the HVAC industry for R-22 as it is gradually phased out. One of these non-ozone-depleting alternative refrigerants is R-410A. This is manufactured and sold under various trade names, including GENETRON, AZ-20 ®, SUVA 410A ®, and Puron ®.

Another factor to be considered is price. The price is expected to go up as the supply of R-22 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 phaseout period. Bill Blind, President of Blind & Sons, Inc. states, “I agree with the EPA, the prices for R-22 will gradually go up the next few years but should not be outrageous for a long time.”

According to Blind, the life expectancy of an air conditioning unit or heat pump is around 15 years. Blind states, “What this means is if you had installed a new R-22 air conditioning system in the year 2002, you will be able to get refrigerant for your system at least until the year 2020 when it will no longer be manufactured. 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. According to Blind, “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 for homeowners. 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.
Blind states, “We realize this is a change that benefits everyone, including our planet. We just want homeowners to understand how it will affect them and to be prepared.”

You can go to www.energystar.gov for more information on energy efficient systems.

Blind & Sons
Blind & Sons is a family-owned business dedicated to providing total home comfort for their Northeast Ohio neighbors. Based in Barberton, Ohio, they have been in business since opening their doors in 1937. They are a full service company offering heating, cooling, indoor air quality, plumbing and electrical products and services to the communities in Northeast Ohio. For more information, visit their website at www.blindandsons.com.