Once the workhorse of the commercial and residential refrigerant world, R-22 today moves slowly toward its total phase-out.
This has left many owners and contractors questioning what the future holds for systems still operating with R-22, which includes air conditioning systems, cold storage, food refrigeration equipment, and industrial process refrigeration. Experts believe those affected will endure, even though R-22 production and import will end effective January 1, 2020. After this date, service professionals will be required to use reclaimed and recycled R-22.
The phase-out process began in 2010 after scientists determined that R-22 was depleting the ozone. Their findings and subsequent federal actions to resolve the problem led many HVAC manufacturers to stop producing equipment with R-22 altogether.
Stringent efforts to reduce ozone depletion first began with the finalization of the Montreal Protocol in 1987. The global agreement took aim at ozone-depleting substances, phasing out their production and consumption. The United States ratified the protocol in 1988.
Five years later, the Environmental Protection Agency began phasing out the worst of the ozone-depleting refrigerants first, which included R-22. It was a sweeping change from the days when R-22 was considered safe and was popular due to its cost-effectiveness. Efforts to phase it out, and the subsequent fear of shortages, sent prices soaring.
They have since stabilized, however, due in part to the reclaim and recycling industry, which worked to ensure that enough R-22 remained in play. As a result, the hundreds of millions of pounds of existing R-22 available for use are expected to meet the needs of equipment operating today, experts say.
To illustrate the point, with reference to HVAC equipment, the lifecycle of a typical rooftop air conditioning unit lasts 10 to 15 years, meaning equipment built just before the announcement has only two to seven years of operational life remaining. Enough equipment should be moving offline after 2020 – to be replaced with new equipment using new refrigerants – that the R-22 supply will not be jeopardized.
Experts recommend that owners of systems with R-22 should continue to maintain their equipment to avoid potential refrigerant leaks. Catching a leak early will not result in overwhelming refrigerant replacement costs. What’s more, experts suggest rethinking plans to convert an R-22 system to an alternative refrigerant, because replacing refrigerant is not as simple as changing the oil in a car from Pennzoil to a generic brand.
Engineers design air conditioning units to operate based upon the specific characteristics of a refrigerant. Replacing R-22 with a different refrigerant can cause a system to not operate as efficiently as it was intended since refrigerant characteristics often differ. Plus, an exact replacement for R-22 does not exist.
Before making any refrigerant changes to an air conditioning system, always contact a professional service provider first. They can analyze your system and make suggestions regarding the best course of action.
Does your air conditioning system still use R-22? Are you considering a refrigerant change, or is your system nearing the end of its lifecycle? For more information, please contact Jonathon Goering by email or phone at 316-265-9655.
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