The State of R-22 Refrigerant Today
The refrigerant of choice, R-22, has been in use for decades; however, as worldwide regulation has reduced the need for it, its production has been cut substantially in recent years and prices are roughly six times what they were just a few years ago. No new systems are allowed to be built with R-22 employed, so the entire R-22 market is purely for servicing existing equipment at this point. With a typical system holding anywhere from 7 to 12 pounds of refrigerant and the cost of R-22 being roughly $75 per pound, the cost of replenishing a system has become particularly cost-prohibitive. With refrigerant costing as much as $800 for a unit, many homeowners are electing to put that money toward simply replacing their system with one that does not rely on R-22 or undergoing a retrofit when possible. Although replacing a system is typically several thousand dollars and never a particularly fun choice to make, it really is something many property owners need to prepare for in the future perhaps a bit sooner than would have otherwise been anticipated. There is very good cause for the regulations behind phasing out R-22; good enough that nearly the entire world was actually in agreement with the measures.
R-22 Refrigerant History and Future
Due to its ozone-depleting and greenhouse gas effects, the world first agreed to begin phasing out some refrigerants in 1987 through the Montreal Protocol. Modifications were later made in the 1990s to reduce the consumption and production of HCFCs(hydro chlorofluorocarbons) and CFCs, most commonly associated with refrigerants. The United States has outlined a series of benchmarks and goals for phasing out these harmful products through the Montreal Protocol and Clean Air Act.
In 2004, the U.S. was required to reduce HCFC consumption by 35% and did so by banning production and import of HCFC-141b and established allowances for HCFC-22(R-22) and HCFC-142b. In 2010, the U.S. was required to reduce HCFCs by 75%, which was accomplished by limiting the use of R-22 to servicing existing equipment. This meant that no new air conditioning systems could use R-22. Looking to the future, HCFCs to are be reduced by 90% from the U.S. baseline in 2015. And in 2020, consumption shall be reduced by 99.5% of the U.S. baseline. At this point, no new production or import of R-22 will ever occur and requirements to capture and recycle R-22 will ensure there is supply to service old units. This is currently known as Section 608 certification and ensures contractors are EPA-certified to handle the refrigerants appropriately as allowing them to be vented or otherwise released into the air is illegal. As the plans for phasing out the harmful refrigerants were established in 1993, the phasing out process should continue to go rather smoothly and there shouldn’t be any concern about running out of R-22 to service older units; however, we can likely count on the costs of such refrigerants to remain high.
The new standard refrigerant for home conditioning equipment has become R-410A. It does not contain chlorine, so it does not affect the ozone layer, but it does still contribute to the greenhouse gas problem. For those concerned about the refrigerants used in your cars, refrigerant HFO-1234yf was first approved for use in 2011 and has made its way into many 2013 model cars. It is considered to be 99.7% better than the previous car refrigerant in terms of global warming factors.
As the world progresses forward in its pursuit of sustainable business, property owners with air conditioning systems built before 2010 need to be aware of the potential need to retrofit or replace their air conditioning systems based on the refrigerant market at the time of disrepair as the economics of the market are more likely to make earlier replacement the economically viable solution.