Many of our customers have been asking for a while now, “What’s the big deal with all this news about the refrigerant phase out?”
“Does my system have the old freon?”
“What is freon?”
“Do new units even use freon anymore?”
“How long has R22 been around and why is it being phased out now?
“Will my refrigerant be illegal?”
“Is it going to get too expensive to operate my AC anymore?”
As these questions become increasingly common, the amount of misinformation on the internet about this subject has grown. The team here at Access Heating & Air decided it’s a good time to put together a comprehensive look at this “phenomenon” and hopefully provide clear insight on this dynamic occurrence in the air conditioning world.
The Montreal Protocol Act
Let’s rewind a bit and discuss the Montreal Protocol Act.(1) This global agreement was finalized in 1987, and at its core, its purpose was to protect the atmosphere from ozone-depleting substances.
There’s quite a few topics covered in this Protocol Act, but as for how it impacts your home’s air conditioner:
There are 2 basic types of freon, or refrigerant — HFCs, short for hydrofluorocarbons, and HCFCs, short for chlorofluorocarbons. HFCs are harmful to the environment on a number of levels, but mainly the protective ozonde layer in the Earth’s outer atmosphere.
- There are a number of chemicals that fall under the HFC category, but to limit ourselves to what’s at stake and important here, we will narrow it down to R22, which is commonly referred to as “freon gas,”“refrigerant,” or “coolant.” This R22 chemical has been on the chopping block for years — basically since it was manufactured years ago.
R22 was introduced into the refrigeration business in the early 1950s and has been the leading chemical for keeping our homes comfortable for the last number of decades. But, R22 has a caveat: It has been proven to deplete the Earth’s ozone layer, causing it to be more harmful than productive! The irony!
As you can see from this graph, the Montreal Protocol Act has been incredibly effective in achieving its overall goal of reducing the use of HFCs.
How This Affects You
For air conditioning systems that don’t have any issues, this type of coolant is harmless, for the most part. It really becomes an issue when there is a problem with your air conditioner, such as a freon leak. When your air conditioner starts leaking, the gas exists the AC and will vent into the atmosphere, causing damage.
Yeah, But Is It Illegal?
Yes and no. Let us explain by using an analogy: The only time you break the speed limit is when you actually go over the speed limit. But everywhere you go, driving under 65 miles per hour is totally acceptable and safe. So, you don’t need to worry about this “illegal freon” until it actually becomes an issue. As long as your air conditioner is running properly, you have no need to worry about the old R22.
So, What Types Of Issues Cause Concern?
Well, primarily, when your air conditioner begins leaking. Air conditioners will age and fail as they get older. The typical failure related to freon happens in the air conditioning coils. And as rust takes its toll, the coils begin to weaken and the metal thins, causing the refrigerant to begin leaking. Sometimes this leak is slow and manageable, but more often, it happens fast and quickly gets expensive to fix.
How To Tell If Your Unit Has The Old Freon
If your system was manufactured before 2010, there’s a 90% chance it has R22, or the old freon. You can look at the data plate on your outdoor unit, as illustrated in the photo below, and with some quick investigation, you’ll be able to read if your unit has the new or the old. The nomenclature on your outdoor system contains all sorts of pertinent information, like the type of freon, and it will be listed right on that sticker.
If your system is newer than 2010, chances are, it has the new freon. Manufacturers were banned from manufacturing systems with R22 from 2010 to present day. That doesn’t mean a “fly-by-night” contractor didn’t use old equipment, so you still want to educate yourself and check things out.
What To Do If Your AC Is Leaking
We’ve provided more information on refrigerant leaks on our website. Once a leak develops in the air conditioner, there are a few ways to tackle this repair.
- Recharge the AC every so often, as it gets low
- Find and locate the leak and then repair the system
- Replace the air conditioner with a more environmentally friendly option
Recharging the AC is not recommended, though it is an option, because your system is knowingly dumping a harmful chemical into the atmosphere.
Finding and locating the leak is a great option, but often very expensive due to the amount of time and specialized tools required to properly complete a repair like this. Repairs like this typically cost around $2500, which is throwing good money away on a system that is probably past its expected life span.
PRO TIP: The average life of an air conditioning system is 10-15 years
Replacing the air conditioner is a beneficial option because you can upgrade to a more environmentally friendly option, otherwise known as R410a or an HCFC. R410a is a great option, as it is not harmful to the environment like its older brother, R22 freon.
Why Is the Freon Phase Out So Important? How Does It Pertain To Me?
As R22 becomes more and more obsolete, the costs will begin to rise. If you remember, in our cars years ago, they were using R12 for air conditioning, but now cars are charged with R134a. R12 used to be around $10 a pound for recharging but is now $800+ per pound!
That’s where this is going in the air conditioning world. R22 is approximately $150 per pound right now, but just a few short years ago, it was close to $60 per pound. And it’s only getting more expensive every year.
So, you may be thinking, why a whole blog article about this?
Any time there’s confusion around a technical and clear matter, like this freon phase out, we see it as a call to step up and help educate our customers, other companies and the industry at large. What we have seen around the Treasure Valley is straight-out lies to consumers regarding their air conditioners.
What have we been hearing? “The old freon is outdated.” “It’s illegal.” “We can’t get it anymore, and so we can’t fix your air conditioner…” This is just to name a few!
This has caused confusion and frustration for homeowners here in the Treasure Valley. We are seeing many contractors take this as an opportunity to strong-arm consumers into buying a new air conditioner. And we get it; it makes sense to upgrade your air conditioner when it’s older than 10 years AND it has developed a freon issue, like a leak or restriction in the system.
However, when this type of information is misused and twisted with incorrect information, we feel it is our duty to speak out on this matter. So, we hope this has achieved our goal for you!
We do know that a large percentage of air conditioning systems across the world utilize this R22 and will continue to do so for decades to come. But as supply and demand has shown us before, this will be an ever-growing concern for the foreseeable future for our industry.
The manufacturing of R22 will no longer be allowed by suppliers, but it will still be available. We have heard estimates that supply will keep up for the next 100 years. We aren’t too sure about how this all will shake out over the years, but we continue to look at history for providing a clear understanding of what will likely happen.
We do know that the cost of the older freon, R22, will continue to rise as both the supply diminishes but as consumers move more and more towards a more environmentally friendly option, R410a.
First, the old freon is not illegal. No one is going to come take you to jail or give your air conditioner a ticket.
Second, the old freon is still available but will increase in price year over year. Keep this in mind when your system begins developing issues, mechanically or even with the freon system.
Third, take some time to get educated on your system and see what type of freon your system has. You can do this by reading the sticker on the side of your air conditioner. The type of freon will be listed there.
As always, we are here and ready to help you with any questions you might have through this process. Drop us a line or call 208-855-2444, and we can answer any questions that have come up for you.
At Access Heating & Air, we have been in business for nearly 50 years now because we provide honest and ethical service in every job we do and every decision we have made all these years!