Airmageddon Is Coming:
What You Need to Know about the EPA’s Freon 22 Phase-Out
If your existing HVAC system, air conditioner, or other refrigeration unit, is an older model that uses R-22 refrigerant — also known as HCFC-22 or freon (a registered trademark of DuPont that has since come into general use) — there are a number of important facts you need to know, as the phase-out of this potentially harmful hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) gradually moves closer to a complete ban.
CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) were the world’s first refrigerant. Invented in 1928, these precursors to HCFCs were safe for many uses and were therefore a welcome invention that enhanced people’s quality of life. However, in the mid-1970s, it became clear that, though this substance was generally regarded as safe, it caused damage to the stratospheric ozone layer that surrounds the earth. In an effort to find a more environmentally-friendly coolant, scientists developed HCFCs, which soon replaced their CFC counterpart. And while HCFCs appear to be reasonably safe as far as their immediate use is concerned, they have since been determined to be equally damaging to the ozone layer. To prevent further destruction of this vital protective barrier, the U.S. has, since becoming a signatory to the international treaty known as the Montreal Protocol, in 1987, instituted a gradual phase-out of HCFC coolants. What does that mean to you? If your HVAC, or other equipment, uses this coolant, it can mean a great deal.
A partial list of potentially affected equipment follows:
- Central air conditioners
- Window AC units
- Ductless air conditioners
- Air-to-air heat pumps
- Ground-source heat pumps
- Packaged AC units
- Packaged heat pumps
- Motor vehicle AC systems
Equipment used in commercial and/or industrial applications, includes the following:
- Ice machines
- Retail refrigerators
- Retail freezers
- Restaurant refrigerators
- Restaurant freezers
- Cold-storage units/warehouses
- Refrigerated transport
- Industrial process refrigeration
PHASING OUT THE OFFENDING SUBSTANCE
While most HVAC equipment manufactured today uses other, safer, types of coolant, many systems manufactured before 2010 still use the HCFC-22 coolant, originally developed by DuPont. To be fair to those who own these systems, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a gradual, long-term phase-out plan for the coolant. Full implementation of the Clean Air Act Section 608 phase-out, overseen by the EPA, is scheduled for 2030, at which time the HCFC phase-out will be complete. In the interim, gradually increasing restrictions will be implemented. Restrictions for each stage of the phase-out are listed and briefly described below:
2010 THROUGH 2014 REGULATIONS: THE 2010 PHASE-DOWN STEP
- 75% phase-out of HCFC coolant is enacted through production and consumption limits.
- Manufacturers face heavy regulation, production limits and some production bans.
- Some exemptions are allowed for approved manufacturers.
- Though regulated, HCFCs are still approved for reclamation, recycling and reuse.
- No non-EPA-approved coolant, including R-22 and R-142b, may be used in newly manufactured HVAC equipment.
2015 THROUGH 2019 REGULATIONS: THE 2015 PHASE-DOWN STEP
- Incremental decrease of HCFC production and consumption continues.
- 90% reduction of HCFC production and use is required in 2015.
- No exemptions are allowed during this period.
- Regulated HCFCs are still approved for reclamation, recycling and reuse.
- R-22 and R-142b are banned for use in any HVAC equipment manufactured after January 1, 2010.
2020 THROUGH 2029 REGULATIONS: THE 2020 PHASE-DOWN STEP
- A 99.5% reduction of existing HCFC coolant is required in 2020.
- New production is prohibited and consumption must be reduced during this period.
- No exceptions are allowed.
- Recycling is allowed but only by licensed reclaimers operating under strict new regulations.
- Limited reuse of these coolants is allowed, pursuant to stringent regulations.
2030 REGULATIONS: THE FINAL PHASE-OUT STEP
- As of January 1, 2030, both at-home production and import of HCFC coolants are completely banned.
- Recycling and reuse of these coolants are no longer allowed.
- Production, distribution, sale or possession of HCFC coolants becomes illegal.
- Any remaining R-22 and R-142b stores are destroyed.
- 100% HCFC refrigerant phase-out is complete.
HOW THE HCFC-22 PHASE-OUT WILL AFFECT CONSUMERS
The consumer whose HVACR equipment uses Freon®, or another HCFC coolant, will experience the following changes:
- As the phase-out period advances, regulations regarding HCFCs will increase.
- Consumers who use large amounts of coolant will be responsible for timely repair of coolant leaks and, in some cases, installation of leak-detecting equipment.
- As supplies of these coolants decrease, demand will increase, causing prices to rise.
- These coolants will gradually become scarce, though rising costs may create increased incentive to recycle used coolant, which could mitigate the problem to an unknown degree.
- Consumers will eventually need to replace their R-22 and R-142b charged equipment with newer models that use more environmentally-friendly coolants.
The R-22 phase-out is already underway with the deadline approaching rapidly. Some options you might consider:
- Switching to alltemp® solutions, the most efficient true drop-in refrigerant, not an additive, that meets the Montreal/Kyoto Protocols and EPA standards with the lowest GWP for an HFC. No oil or valve changes needed. Yields 10%-40% reduction in kWh without any loss in capacity.
- Replacing your HCFC model with newer equipment to avoid being affected by the phase-out
- Starting to save for a replacement system while continuing to use your current HVAC equipment or AC unit, until R-22 becomes more scarce and more expensive
- Replacing only the affected component(s) of your HVAC system
- Upgrading your system to an ENERGY STAR-qualified, high-efficiency system
- Replacing your commercial HVAC system, or refrigeration equipment, and claiming a Section 179 deduction
- Waiting until HCFCs are banned before replacing your current equipment (not recommended)