There is a good chance you've probably heard about the new alternative refrigerants being used in today's Air Conditioning Systems and Heat Pumps. These new products have fewer CFC's [chlorofluorocarbons] and are designed to have less impact on the earth's ozone layer and global warming. Some of them go by different names like Prozone or Puron. But no matter what the name, they are all R-410A.
R-410A is a new generation refrigerant that will be an important part of our future systems. But should you make the switch now or wait? How much time do you have? What are the risks? What do you need to know?
Here are a few facts about R-22:
- The EPA will allow the production of R-22 systems to the year 2010.
- The EPA will allow continued use of R-22 to the year 2030, well past the typical life expectancy of any system installed today.
- R-22 has been scientifically shown to have relatively low Global Warming Potential and Ozone Depletion Potential.
What Does the R-22 Phase out Mean for Consumers?
Availability of R-22: The Clean Air Act does not allow any refrigerant to be vented into the atmosphere during installation, service, or retirement of equipment. Therefore, R-22 must be recovered and recycled (for reuse in the same system), reclaimed (reprocessed to the same purity levels as new R-22), or destroyed. After 2020, the servicing of R-22-based systems will rely on recycled refrigerants. It is expected that reclamation and recycling will ensure that existing supplies of R-22 will last longer and be available to service a greater number of systems.
As noted above, chemical manufacturers will be able to produce R-22 for use in new A/C equipment until 2010, and they can continue production of R-22 until 2020 for use in servicing that equipment. Given this schedule, the transition away from R-22 to the use of ozone-friendly refrigerants should be smooth. For the next 20 years or more, R-22 should continue to be available for all systems that require R-22 for servicing.
Cost of R-22: While consumers should be aware that prices of R-22 may increase as supplies dwindle over the next 20 or 30 years, EPA believes that consumers are not likely to be subjected to major price increases within a short time period. Although there is no guarantee that service costs of R-22 will not increase, the lengthy phase out period for R-22 means that market conditions should not be greatly affected by the volatility and resulting refrigerant price hikes that have characterized the phase out of R-12, the refrigerant used in automotive air-conditioning systems.
Common Sense Approach To Purchasing New Systems
An important thing homeowners can do for the environment is to purchase a highly energy-efficient system. Energy-efficient systems result in cost savings for the homeowner.
Today's best air conditioners use much less energy to produce the same amount of cooling as air conditioners made in the mid-1970s. Even if your air conditioner is only 10 years old, you may save significantly on your cooling energy costs by replacing it with a newer, more efficient model. Products with EPA's Energy Star® label can save homeowners 10% to 40% on their heating and cooling bills every year. Both R-22 and R-410A systems may have the Energy Star® label.
You should consider energy efficiency, along with performance, reliability and cost, in making your decision. And don't forget that when purchasing a new system, you can also speed the transition away from ozone-depleting R-22 by choosing a system that uses ozone-friendly refrigerants.
The Banning of Ozone-Depleting Refrigerants
A Brief History...
In 1987 the Montreal Protocol, an international environmental agreement, established requirements that began the worldwide phase out of ozone-depleting CFC's (chlorofluorocarbons). These requirements were later modified, leading to the phase out in 1996 of CFC production in all developed nations. In addition, a 1992 amendment to the Montreal Protocol established a schedule for the phase out of HCFC's (hydrochlorofluorocarbons). HCFC's are substantially less damaging to the ozone layer than CFC's, but still contain ozone-destroying chlorine. The Montreal Protocol as amended is carried out in the U.S. through Title VI of the Clean Air Act, which is implemented by EPA.
An HCFC known as R-22 has been the refrigerant of choice for residential heat pump and air-conditioning systems for more than four decades. Unfortunately for the environment, releases of R-22 that result from system leaks contribute to ozone depletion. In addition, the manufacture of R-22 results in a by-product that contributes significantly to global warming. As the manufacture of R-22 is phased out over the coming years as part of the agreement to end production of HCFC's, manufacturers of residential air conditioning systems are beginning to offer equipment that uses ozone-friendly refrigerants.
While R-410A will certainly be the choice for the future, R-22 systems deliver a combination of benefits that make it an option for most homeowners in today's market. A 13 SEER R-22 system is the same efficiency as a 13 SEER R-410A system. The type of refrigerant used has no bearing on the cooling performance of an air conditioning unit.
Update to Story (3/11/2013)