R22, also known as Freon, is the refrigerant or coolant, that manufacturers used for decades in air conditioners. The coolant absorbs the heat from a room, expels it outside, and delivers cool air in return.
But, Freon is on a list of chemicals that deplete the ozone layer. So, thanks to the Clean Air Act of 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency began a decade-long phase-out of the coolant.
In January of that year, manufacturers could no longer produce R22 for new machines, only for repairs to those already in service. All new ACs from 2010 use R410A, a more environmentally-sound solution.
Predictably, supplies began dwindling. And, starting January 1, 2020, no one could manufacture or import R22 in the U.S. (along with a host of other countries) anymore.
Now, the only R22 around is what’s still in stock or recycled coolant (more on that in a bit). As a result of all this, the price has jumped up and down. And, there’s been a mix of speculation, misinformation, and the occasional dishonest statement surrounding the whole thing.
So, for this article, we’re pulling information directly from the EPA along with what our team is experiencing dealing with suppliers and customers in towns such as Elgin, IL, Barrington, and others in the Fox River Valley.
We’ll walk you through what to expect this year and beyond. That includes the coolant issue plus new efficiency standards coming up soon.
But first, we’ll answer the big question.
To be clear, the phase-out is only on production. There aren’t any recalls or things like that.
But, dealing with a coolant leak is now different. What was once a relatively easy repair may require you to get a new system altogether.
Right now, there’s still R22 around. But, it’s pricey, and enough that it’s not worth the price and extra work to obtain it and recharge your system.
If there’s a minimal leak, and you catch it soon enough, we can sometimes recommend using recycled R22.
Currently, we and all other HVAC techs must recycle any coolant we drain from used or broken AC’s. The recycled product isn’t nearly as good or efficient as virgin coolant.
But, if you’re looking to get another year or two out of your system, and only need a small amount, this can work.
After that, unfortunately, for the most part, we’ll recommend replacing a unit with a coolant leak. The R22 is available but costly.
While it’s technically possible to retrofit your system to use R410A or other coolant alternatives, we don’t recommend this.
To use a different solution, we have to drain the entire system and make significant adjustments for the different pressurization those other refrigerants require.
Then, there’s purchasing the coolant — enough for the entire system — and recharging. All told, it can end up costing upwards of $2,000.
And, with all that work involved, it’s not worth running the risk of spending all that money only for the unit to break down again.
That’s a real possibility when you’re dealing with an older system that leaks.
It’s frustrating to think you’d need a new system for something that you often can have repaired. But, there’s something else to keep in mind: The age of the system.
Remember, all the units made starting in 2010 used R410A. So, if yours uses R22, it’s almost certainly over ten years old.
That means, if you are looking at any extensive repairs, you would probably consider getting a new condenser anyway — regardless of the coolant issue.