R-22 Refrigerant Basics

R-22 refrigerant is a chemical used in older AC units and heat pumps to cool your home. You may know it as Freon®. On January 1, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the production and import of R-22 due to its notably detrimental effects on the ozone layer when it's discharged into the atmosphere.

In 2010, the U.S. stopped the sale of new air conditioning units that use R-22. But units manufactured in 2009 and earlier still use R-22 today. Eventually, there will be a total ban on the use of R-22 in the U.S., so if you have one of these older units, you need to be prepared for the transition.

What is R-22 refrigerant?

R-22 refrigerant is one specific type of refrigerant, the main chemical your HVAC system uses to cool your home. It’s a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC). During the refrigerant cycle, the refrigerant runs through your air conditioner or heat pump, absorbing and then releasing heat to cool your home.

Why is R-22 being phased out?

When R-22 is released into the air outside, it depletes the Earth’s ozone layer, which contributes to worldwide climate change. Collectively, all of the emissions of HCFCs like R-22 have resulted in an “ozone hole” in the ozone layer over the South Pole. 

To safeguard the ozone layer and mitigate global warming, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is gradually phasing out the production and use of R-22 and other substances that deplete the ozone layer — including HCFCs, CFCs, and Halons.

The most recent event in this refrigerant phase-out happened on January 1, 2020, when the EPA declared that R-22 could only be used from recycled and stockpiled quantities. The plan’s final stage is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2030, when the government will officially ban the remaining production and import of all HCFCs. 

Is R-22 refrigerant still available?

R-22 is no longer produced or imported into the United States but still exists inside some older HVAC units. If your unit uses R-22 and runs out, HVAC technicians may still have access to an existing recycled or recovered supply of this refrigerant and can service your unit as normal. 

But, if you need to replace your unit altogether, you won’t be able to buy another system that uses R-22. Instead, your new unit will use a more sustainable replacement refrigerant, such as R-454B. (Don’t worry if you don’t know what that is, you’ll learn more about it soon!)

What kind of refrigerant is in my HVAC system?

The specific refrigerant your HVAC system uses should be listed in your owner’s manual. If you can’t find your manual, try contacting the company that services your HVAC system to find out the type of refrigerant your unit uses. 

What if my AC unit or heat pump still uses R-22?

If your HVAC system still uses R-22, you don’t need to replace or stop using your system right away. Currently, HVAC systems that use this older refrigerant can still be maintained and serviced by an HVAC professional with the existing supply of this older refrigerant. 

In other words, if your system operates on R-22, you can continue to carry out routine HVAC maintenance. Keep in mind, as the years of the production and import ban go on, the supply of this refrigerant will continue to decrease, making it harder and more expensive to replace this refrigerant in the future.

The EPA is encouraging homeowners who have HVAC systems that use R-22 to replace them with a more efficient and sustainable option.  

Should I repair or replace it?

AC Repair

If your central air conditioning system is operational and continues to utilize R-22, you can proceed with regular servicing in case of minor maintenance issues.  But you need to be thinking seriously about replacing the unit, as it’s nearing the end of its lifespan. 

A licensed HVAC professional will have the capabilities needed to service your cooling unit and replenish the refrigerant if needed. To service an R-22 cooling system, your HVAC technician must be EPA Section 608-certified, which means they know the safe and proper way to handle and dispose of harmful refrigerants.

If you own a home with an HVAC system that uses R-22, it's crucial to plan annual HVAC servicing and consistently replace your air filters. These actions can aid in reducing harm to the environment. 

AC Replacement

Replace your R-22 air conditioner or heat pump when the unit has reached the end of its lifespan. Systems using this refrigerant haven’t been manufactured since 2009, so there’s a chance that, based on the typical lifespan of AC units and heat pumps (15 years), you might need a new unit soon. When you replace your unit, you’ll be doing your part to help combat climate change by retiring one more unit using this old refrigerant.

Check out our Repair or Replace Guide for further help.

Alternative HVAC Refrigerants

When it is time to replace your R-22-using HVAC system, your new system will be more environmentally friendly. Since 2010, the most common refrigerant replacement was R-410A, a refrigerant without the ozone-depleting qualities of R-22.

Due to additional environmental rules, American Standard is now shifting to the use of R-454B refrigerant and R-32 refrigerant in our home cooling systems, implementing this change in a staged manner. They are more sustainable refrigerants with a low global warming potential (GWP) and 0 ozone depletion potential (ODP).

For a more comprehensive understanding of the logic and science driving the change, check out this article on the transition of refrigerants.

Key Takeaway

R-22 was once a standard refrigerant that is now being phased out because of its harmful impact on the ozone layer. You can still use and maintain your R-22 system as long as it is cost-effective. When it’s time for air conditioner replacement or heat pump replacement, you’ll need to upgrade to a more sustainable alternative.

Questions about refrigerants and if it’s time to replace your air conditioner or heat pump? Contact your local American Standard dealer for expert advice and product recommendations. For over 100 years, we’ve designed and manufactured some of the most awarded, well-engineered heating and cooling equipment and earned a reputation for doing things right.

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