Options for Owners of AC Units Using R-22
If your air conditioner uses ozone-depleting R-22 coolant, you may need to make some changes.
As of 2015, we are now in Phase 3 of a 4-part plan to virtually eliminate the use of the environmentally hazardous coolant R-22 in America. While the manufacture of new air conditioners, heat pumps, and other equipment using R-22 has already ceased, it is still permissible to run older equipment using this coolant.
If your property features an R-22 cooled unit, you have 3 main options going forward.
Continue Using R-22
The first option is to continue using your current cooling equipment as-is. While this is a valid choice, it may not be the most cost-effective one if your air conditioner should ever need a coolant top-off.
The R-22 phase-out plan does not call for the scrapping or decommissioning of existing R-22 equipment. However, it will put an end to the production or import of R-22 in the US by 2020. The only coolant available will be from recycled sources, namely coolant recovered or reclaimed from old equipment. Naturally the supply of R-22 coolant is going to shrink dramatically. Hopefully, so will the demand, but the low supply is still likely to cause R-22 to become extremely expensive in the coming years. In fact, we have already seen this occurring in 2013 and 2014. The EPA actually had to fall back a bit on their allocation restrictions in 2013 because prices rose so far so fast.
If you don’t like the idea of being tied to the price risks inherent in the R-22 market, another option is to switch from R-22 to a different coolant. The EPA is reviewing new coolants as they become available, but currently the top contender for retrofits is R-407C. Unfortunately, the most popular coolant for new equipment, R-410A, is not an option for retrofits due to its higher working pressure. Retrofitting is a tricky business though, because changing coolants can affect other system components and alter the performance of the air conditioner.
Replace Your Equipment
Perhaps the best option for an owner of an R-22 air conditioner will be to replace the unit with a new one. This will allow you to experience the many efficiency and comfort improvements that come with upgrading to the latest technology, as well as the peace of mind that comes from knowing your air conditioner coolant poses no undue threat to the ozone layer.
Before you run out and buy a new air conditioner, remember that this step will only be necessary if your current air conditioner begins to leak fluid or break down. As long as the coolant is contained in the system, it does not pose a danger.