R-22 Refrigerant Phaseout and What It Means for Your Commercial Equipment
One of the more important components of your commercial air conditioning system is something you’ll probably never see. Heat pumps and air conditioners require refrigerant to capture and remove heat and produce cooling. The most common refrigerant in the United States is R-22, an effective formula that’s used in more than 80 percent of current cooling systems. Within the next few years, however, R-22 users will face some possibly unpleasant choices because of a federal government-mandated R-22 refrigerant phaseout.
Government regulations have prohibited the use of R-22 (which also goes by the brand name Freon) in central cooling systems manufactured since 2010. By 2020, the ongoing phaseout will eliminate new supplies of R-22 refrigerant. Between now and then, prices for new R-22 are expected to continue significantly increasing, as they have been the last couple of years. The R-22 refrigerant phaseout, and the higher costs associated with servicing older A/Cs and heat pumps, likely will persuade many commercial and residential cooling system owners to replace their air conditioners before they might have otherwise.
For years, R-22 refrigerant has been the HVAC industry’s standard. Also known as HCFC-22, this substance has been commonly available, inexpensive and easy to find. The U.S. government and other countries around the world several years ago agreed that R-22 is harmful to the environment because it destroys protective ozone. In response, the Clean Air Act included provisions to limit the use of R-22 and to eventually replace it with newer, more environmentally friendly refrigerants. The R-22 refrigerant phaseout is underway. By the year 2020, R-22 will no longer be manufactured or used in new air conditioning systems.
The only alternative to R-22 will be newer and more environmentally sound refrigerants such as R-422 or R-410A. While R-22 will not be banned for use in existing cooling systems, the only way to acquire it will be through recycling or reclaiming it from older air conditioning equipment. These limited options are expected to increase the price of R-22 even further. Availability of R-22 is already tightening. In early 2013, for example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered a reduction in the production of R-22 by about 30 percent from previous levels. Another possible solution to the refrigerant problem is complete cooling system replacement. However, in many cases, this is neither a practical nor reasonable option.
A system purchased in 2009, for example, before newly manufactured units switched from using R-22, still has many years of life left in it. The expense of recharging an existing system with R-22 refrigerant is likely worth it in the case of a newer air conditioner in good condition. Currently known retrofits that allow older systems to use newer refrigerants are expensive, while proposed refrigerant alternatives such as R-407C and R-438A have not proved to be satisfactory replacements because they can reduce system performance and possibly cause damage. For these reasons, replacing an older system with a newer high-efficiency model may be the best and most economically sensible option. Look for a replacement system with high cooling efficiency.
For example, high-efficiency units carry a SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) of 16 or higher. The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the system will be. Replacing low-SEER units with high-SEER models can save you significant amounts of money every month. For example, replacing a SEER 10 air conditioner with a SEER 18 system can reduce monthly cooling costs by up to 50 percent. In general, a high-efficiency cooling system can be expected to pay for itself in monthly savings alone by about the halfway point of the system’s expected useful life.
Our goal is to help educate our customers about Plumbing, HVACR, Fire Protection and Alarm Systems in Mechanical, Commercial and Residential settings. For more information about the R-22 refrigerant phaseout and what it means to you, and to view projects we’ve worked on, visit our website.