Should I Replace My AC or Heat Pump If It Uses R‑22?
If you have an AC or heat pump system that uses R-22 refrigerant (also called HCFC-22), it’s only a matter of time until you need to replace it.
Refrigerant is a chemical agent used by cooling systems to absorb heat from your indoor air to dump outside. Without refrigerant, your air conditioner or heat pump cannot do its job.
R-22 is an old generation of refrigerant that is harmful to the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stopped all production of it in January 2020. If you have an older air conditioner or heat pump that uses R-22, you should replace it. If your system was installed before 2010, it most likely uses this obsolete refrigerant.
To further explain, let’s review:
Need Help Deciding What to Do With Your Old R-22 AC or Heat Pump?
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How to Know If Your Current AC or Heat Pump Uses R-22
Typically, you can determine whether or not your heat pump or air conditioner uses R-22 by:
- Checking its installation year. If it was before 2010, it is highly possible to use R-22.
- Checking the system’s label. A label on your outdoor AC unit should have a box titled “FIELD CHARGED.” If it says R-22 or HCFC-22, your system runs on outdated refrigerant.
If the label is too worn out and ineligible, contact an HVAC professional to inspect the cooling system. You don’t need to hunt down the original installer for this. Any contractor should be able to determine the type of refrigerant your system uses and can help you determine what your best options are going forward.
Once you know for sure that your system uses R-22, keep reading to learn how this phaseout might affect you.
How This Phaseout Will Affect You
In January 2020, the EPA released a statement:
“R-22 will no longer be produced or imported. After 2020, only recovered, recycled, or reclaimed supplies of R-22 will be available. The production (not use) of R-22 is being phased out. You are not required to stop using R-22 air conditioners nor to replace existing equipment.”
This update had been decades in the making. When R-22 entered the market in the 1950s, it quickly became the new standard refrigerant used for HVAC systems. However, as a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), it’s an ozone-depleting gas. Governments worldwide announced plans to phase it out in the late 1980s after the Montreal Protocol, a global agreement to protect the ozone layer. Since R-22 was so widely used, it took the EPA over 30 years to be able to ban production and import without severe economic impact.
With this limitation, the per pound cost of R-22 refrigerant is now double or triple the price of R-410A, a modern generation of refrigerant that’s more environmentally friendly and widely available. Although it’s not entirely harmless to the environment due to its high Global Warming Potential (GWP), it’s a significant improvement from R-22.
If your AC or heat pump uses R-22, you will need to pay more for repairs when there is a leak. Having the right refrigerant levels in your cooling system is vital for it to operate. Since HVAC contractors now have a limited supply of R-22 to work with, the cost to recharge it because of a leak increases. You also run the risk of the supply eventually drying up.
You might wonder if you can just put R-410A into your air conditioner or heat pump. Unfortunately, you cannot use R-410A in a cooling system that uses R-22 due to equipment incompatibility.
Most contractors will recommend that you replace your cooling system instead of continuing to pour money into an outdated system that needs expensive repairs. If your AC or heat pump uses R-22, the system is probably 10 years old or more and nearing the end of its lifespan anyway. Most air conditioners last 10-15 years, although it’s closer to 8-10 years in Arizona. A new AC or heat pump will be more efficient, help you save money on energy bills, and last longer, which can be well worth the upfront investment.
What’s next for refrigerant?
The HVAC industry is working hard to create a refrigerant with a third of R-410A’s GWP called R-32 for mass production. It will enter the mainstream in the mid-2020s. If you’re interested, contact an HVAC professional to see when it might be available in your area. If your AC or heat pump isn’t quite close to its 10th birthday yet but uses R-22, discuss with the technician whether or not it would be better to replace it now with an R-410A system or hold out until R-32 systems are available.
What Choices You Have Moving Forward
Homeowners with heat pumps and air conditioners that use R-22 have 3 options moving forward:
1. Continue to Use Your R-22 AC or Heat Pump:
While you can continue to use and repair your current R-22 AC or heat pump as the most affordable option in the short term, it’ll cost you in the long run. For this reason, manufacturers and contractors don’t recommend keeping an R-22 cooling system as it is.
For starters, the supply of R-22 is dwindling. In the event you have a refrigerant leak (which is inevitable for older heat pumps and air conditioners), you’ll pay quite a bit more to replace it.
But more importantly, since this supply will eventually leave you with no other option but to install a new cooling system, it doesn’t make sense to keep spending money on a system you’re not keeping for another decade.
2. Retrofit Your R-22 AC or Heat Pump to Use R-410A:
As we mentioned above, you cannot use R-410A in an AC or heat pump that’s designed for R-22. However, you may be able to retrofit your cooling system to use R-410A. Retrofitting is a good option for homeowners who aren’t comfortable leaving their system as it is but don’t want to invest in a completely new system right now.
Why can’t you mix refrigerant types?
Newer refrigerants are more effective at absorbing heat, but they put increased pressure on internal components. Unfortunately, R-22 cooling systems can't withstand additional pressure, so the R-410A refrigerant would likely cause a breakdown of critical parts like the compressor. As the “heart” of your AC system, a compressor replacement can cost just as much as a brand-new AC system.
To retrofit your AC system to use R-410A, a contractor must:
- Replace the condenser, compressor, evaporator coil, and refrigerant lines
- Drain the system of all refrigerant
- Clean, flush, and dry the system
- Recharge with R-410A refrigerant
If you’re interested in a retrofit, check with an HVAC contractor first. They’ll help you determine the next steps aligned with your budget and existing heat pump or AC setup.
3. Replace Your R-22 AC or Heat Pump With an R-410A System:
Changing to an R-410A system may be the most expensive option upfront, but you’ll save money long-term.
Compared to R-22 systems, R-410A systems can absorb more heat but with less energy consumption. This means you’ll enjoy faster cooling comfort but for reduced monthly energy bills.
Read more in our blog, Why Change From an R-22 System to R-410A?
Also, it’s important to consider the possibility of a system breakdown. If you’re suddenly without AC in the middle of summer, you might end up spending money on hotel bills and emergency fees.
Depending on your market’s availability, you might be able to replace your R-22 AC system with an R-32 soon to further cut down on energy consumption and global warming risks.
Want to Retrofit or Replace Your R-22 AC or Heat Pump? Contact Advantage Air Mechanical!
We understand that this phaseout is confusing, and you’re probably unsure which option is best for your budget, home, and saving goals in the short and long term. Advantage Air Mechanical’s team of highly-trained AC experts can help you find the best solution.
We’ll provide you with an upfront quote on the cost of installing a new air conditioner or heat pump or a retrofit. Since we don’t pay our technicians on commission, you can rest assured that you’ll get professional recommendations that focus on your needs.
Call us at (520) 792-9400 or schedule with us below.