Old air conditioners that leak refrigerant will become more costly to fix starting in 2020, local heating and air conditioning specialists said.
Effective Jan. 1, the United States will no longer produce or import the refrigerant chemical hydrochlorofluorocarbon 22, often referred to as HCFC-22 or more commonly as R-22. It also is known under the trade name Freon.
For years, R-22 had been used around the world in residential and commercial air conditioning, refrigeration, chillers, room air conditioning and transport refrigeration until global leaders decided to phase out its use and production to protect the earth’s ozone layer.
Changes with R-22 won’t effect the automotive industry because a different refrigerant, HFC-134a, is used in cars, truck and SUVs. Although the chemical does not deplete the ozone layer, the Environmental Protection Agency says HFC-134a is a potential greenhouse gas, which is why the auto manufacturers are transitioning to a more eco-friendly coolant.
The ban on R-22 will reduce supplies and cause prices to rise, which inevitably will result in pricey repair costs for old air conditioners that use R-22 as a coolant, said Justin Carrol of Perfect Home Services near Chicago.
Carrol expects homeowners will have to replace their air conditioners if they leak R-22.
“A lot of people are going to find themselves in a position where it is cost prohibitive to put refrigerant back into the system,” he said.
The ban on R-22 production and imports won’t just affect the United States. All 197 member countries in United Nations agreed to slowly phase out the production and import of ozone depleting substances, including R-22, as part of the Montreal Protocol.
In the United States, the process started when the EPA mandated no new R-22-based air conditioning systems be manufactured or installed after 2010 in favor of appliances that use eco-friendlier refrigerants. By 2020, the production and import of R-22 would be halted.
Carrol said those who’ve bought an air conditioner in the last decade likely don’t have to worry about R-22 because those should have been manufactured with eco-friendly coolants.
“It’s going to have a big impact on business and industrial air conditioners,” said Carrol.
He suggests that anyone who has ever had to recharge R-22 because of a leak in their unit might want to start planning and budgeting to replace the air conditioner.
“For those people, it’s a given that [R-22] is going to leak out again,” Carrol said.
He added the average homeowner can expect to pay $3,500-$6,700 for a new central air unit, depending on the size of the house and the energy efficiency of the unit.
Homeowners who’ve never experienced a coolant leak should have no trouble maintaining their R-22 air conditioning system, according to Mike Bakker, owner of Dutchman Heating and Cooling in Naperville, Illinois.
The part of the air conditioner with R-22 is a closed system, he said, and the only way R-22 is depleted is because of a leak.
As long as air conditioner receives regular maintenance, a unit can last for 15 years or more, Bakker said.
Regular cleaning makes an air conditioner run more efficiently, and a technician can repair minor issues before they cause breakdowns, he said. But at some point, the motor or the condenser is going to wear out, and then the homeowner will have to make a decision.
“I have a lot of customers that say, let’s go ahead and replace it with something that’s more energy efficient and has a warranty,” Bakker said.
Air conditioners typically go out when the weather is hottest because that’s the time when it is running constantly. The same applies to furnaces that fail when the temperatures are lowest.
“Everything seems to break when it’s working the hardest,” Bakker said.
The big difference, he said, is that customers get more frustrated in the summer.
In the winter, if the furnace goes out, people can cook more on the stove or oven, burn wood in the fireplace, or layer with extra clothes, he said.
“There’s only so much you can do to stay cool,” Bakker said.
Besides regular maintenance, Bakker offered a few other tips to prevent air conditioner breakdowns.
The most important is to consistently change the air filter.
A dirty filter makes a unit work harder and dirt can cover the coils and cause issues, Bakker said.
Adding a surge protector, he said, also can prevent air conditioning units from being fried during a storm.