As of January 1, 2020, a once very popular air conditioning refrigerant can no longer be made in or imported into the United States. What does this mean for homeowners across the country?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working to phase out the use of CFCs for the past few decades. As part of the Clean Air Act passed in 1990, the production and import of ozone-depleting substances is heavily regulated. Freon – also known as R-22 and hydro-chlorofluorocarbon, or HCFC-22 – was originally slated for restrictions back in 2010.
Now that the Freon ban has gone into effect in all 50 states, HVAC owners have many questions. We’ve put together a guide to help answer your most pressing concerns about this change.
What Is Freon and Why Is it Now Banned?
Freon is a refrigerant chemical that was widely used in older residential and commercial cooling systems. R-22, the principle component in Freon, has been banned, along with other greenhouse gases, due to evidence that they damage the Earth’s ozone layer and contribute to global warming.
How Can I Tell If My System Uses Freon?
If your air conditioning or heat pump system were manufactured and installed more than 10 years ago, it may require Freon refrigerant. You may be able to find this information on the manufacturer’s label attached to the unit. We recommend asking your trusted HVAC tech to verify.
What Are My Options if My System Currently Uses Freon?
For now, homeowners with systems that use R22 have three options.
- When refrigerant levels are low, have the existing system serviced and recharged with Freon, as long as stock or recycled quantities are available.
- Have the system retrofitted to run on a Freon alternative.
- Replace the system, which is likely nearing the end of its lifecycle anyway, with a new HVAC system.
How Can I Extend the Life of My Cooling System?
If you’re not ready to replace an HVAC system which currently runs on Freon, the first step to keep it working well for longer is to schedule regular maintenance checks. Then, you will need to decide whether to continue to rely on Freon supplies or have the system retrofitted to use an alternative refrigerant.
Is Freon Still Available?
Yes. As of this year, the R-22 chemical can no longer be manufactured in or imported into the country. However, some HVAC service providers may still have limited stock supplies of the coolant available to refill existing systems. Recycled Freon can also be used to service and keep these older systems running until supplies are completely used up.
When Will Freon No Longer Be Available?
There’s no set deadline for the use of R-22. The availability of stock and recycled Freon has already started to decrease. Supplies will gradually dwindle over the coming months as the phase-out process takes effect.
Will Air Conditioning Servicing Cost More?
Yes, most likely. Since R-22 is no longer being produced after January 1st, quantities will become more limited and expensive. As the supply decreases, the price for remaining stock or recycled Freon is expected to increase. This means that it will become increasingly more expensive to service and recharge older air conditioning units which still rely on the banned refrigerant.
In some areas of the country, where supplies are particularly low or demand is higher, recharging Freon for HVAC systems has become very expensive. Recently, it has doubled and even reached 10 times the price of what it cost five years ago. Consumers should beware of price gouging, however; some service providers may take advantage of the situation. It’s best to rely on trusted, certified HVAC technicians and ask for an estimate up front.
Do I Need to Replace My HVAC System?
Not necessarily. Unfortunately, air conditioning and heat pump systems don’t last forever. After about 10 years, performance often starts to decrease, while necessary repairs become increasingly more invasive and expensive. When the cost of repairs and decreased efficiency outweigh the investment in a new unit, this is the point when many homeowners decide to replace the HVAC system.
Take this QUIZ to find out: Is It Time to Replace Your HVAC System?
Beware, some companies have begun using scare tactics or running false ads that say replacing the cooling system is required. But homeowners should not feel pressured into buying a unit. If your HVAC system is still running well, there are some ways to extend its life. A good rule of thumb is to compare the cost of repairing an older system with the cost of replacing it.
Get more information about how the ban going into effect will impact homeowners: Will Your Air Conditioning System Need to Be Replaced by 2020?
Can My Cooling System Use an Alternative Refrigerant?
Probably, yes. Talk to your HVAC technician about the possibility of using an alternative refrigerant. There are conversion blends and Freon alternatives available. But these refrigerant alternatives cannot just be ‘dropped in’ or used to top off older units; the system must be properly retrofitted to run on a conversion blend.
Homeowners should get informed about their options when it comes to retrofitting. There are about 20 different conversion blend refrigerants that are still approved by the EPA; replacements including R427A and R-401A. Yet they can be pricey as well. Some blends are not able to guarantee the same efficiency levels as Freon provided. Additionally, the manufacturer’s warranty may prohibit the use of alternative refrigerants.
How Are Older Cooling Systems Retrofitted?
This is a job for a licensed, professional technician. The term ‘retrofitting’ in this context means first capturing and completely removing any Freon still in the system. Then, the lubricating oil must be changed and some gaskets and seals will likely need to be replaced. Finally, the system will need to be recharged with the alternative refrigerant and tested.
What Are the Benefits of Upgrading to a New HVAC System?
Any air conditioning system that still relies on R-22 is probably close to the end of its life cycle. Replacing an older HVAC system guarantees better energy efficiency, lower utility bills, and better performance. This usually means delivering balanced temperatures throughout the home and reaching the desired temperature faster.
Who Should I Contact to Service, Retrofit, or Replace My System?
Call an EPA-certified HVAC dealer or technician that knows how to handle environmentally harmful chemicals and prevent leaks.