For years, R22 refrigerant was used in the majority of in-home air conditioning systems and considered the king of refrigeration. Well, the times have certainly changed.
Since January 2020, the production and importation of R22 has been banned, allowing only for continuing use of R22 from recycled or stockpiled reserves because of its negative impact on the environment. By January 2030, the EPA’s goal is to phase out the use of R22 almost entirely.
Considering that the majority of air conditioning and other cooling systems manufactured and installed before 2010, when heavy R22 regulations began, utilize R22 refrigerant, these mandates have changed much about the education and practices of HVAC technicians when it comes to refrigerants.
It has spurred us in the HVAC industry to explore and understand more environmentally and efficient refrigerant alternatives as well as inspired technicians to educate their customers on the matter. After all, the phasing out of R22 refrigerant is also going to put customers in the position to make some important decisions regarding their systems as well.
When those questions and decisions do come up, as an HVAC technician or a technician in training it’ll be your responsibility to help your customers make the best and most informed decisions for understanding and replacing their R22 refrigerant systems.
Here are some of the most important things for you and your customers to understand about R22 refrigerant.
Why R22 refrigerant is banned
The reason refrigerant has fallen under so much scrutiny over the past few decades is the negative impact it has been found to have on the environment. Refrigerants can produce emissions that are destructive to the Earth’s ozone layer and contribute to global warming.
This revelation spurred the EPA and governments across the world to begin enforcing stricter regulations on the use of refrigerants and creating new required certifications for HVAC technicians on the handling and disposal of refrigerant, such as the EPA 608 Certification.
So, while 2020 was a year that ramped up restrictions on production and importing of R22 refrigerant, regulations on environmentally harmful refrigerant has been ongoing for decades, with 2010 being a major turning point.
Your customers can continue to use their equipment
The most common question you are likely to encounter from your customers regarding their R22 refrigerant units is “am I still allowed to use it?” The answer is, of course, yes. While the ban exists to cease the production and import of R22, it doesn’t ban the ongoing use of it. So, it is important to put your customer’s mind at ease on this fact.
However, while the ongoing use of their current system is fine, it will present some serious issues for them going forward. As their HVAC technician, someone they should value and trust as an expert in your field, you do have an obligation to inform your customers of what they will be dealing with long term with these systems.
Maintaining their R22 refrigerant system is going to cost them
Because of the ban in production and import, ongoing repairs and replacements on R22 refrigerant systems will have to come from the remaining stockpile of reserves – a stockpile that will continue to rapidly dwindle over the next few years.
As supply diminishes and repair and maintenance demand for these systems (many of which installed before 2010) increases, it will create a landscape in which the cost of these repairs will rise and rise and rise. In the next few years, a refrigerant replacement job that would normally be fairly straightforward and relatively inexpensive will cost your customers a great deal more because of the limited supply.
As you encounter customers with cooling systems that utilize R22, it is a good idea to make this situation known to them and help them understand their options going forward. They may be stubborn and OK with paying more for the sake of living with their system until it finally kicks the bucket. However, you should make them at least understand the value of upgrading and replacing their cooling systems with more efficient and environmentally friendly modern systems.
As HVAC technicians continue to work in a post-R22 world, knowing the available R22 alternatives will help you be a better and more well-rounded HVAC technician, as well as become a more valuable resource for your customers when they are searching for replacements for their outdated cooling systems.
While no refrigerant is perfect and each has their own pluses and minuses, our preferred R22 alternative is R421a. R421a has 0 ODP, is non-flammable, is useful in a number of different applications, can in many cases can be used as a direct R22 replacement, and most importantly is one of the more environmentally friendly refrigerants available.
R32, R407c, and other greener refrigerant alternatives are also available and preferred by some. Like we said, there is no end-all be-all refrigerant choice. Good HVAC technicians will familiarize themselves with as many as they can and come to their own conclusions as to which they prefer and recommend to their customers.
The Training Center of Heating and Air Conditioning takes the health of the beautiful world around us very seriously, so refrigerant education is something we take very seriously and even make EPA 608 certification a part of the requirements for graduation from our school.
If you are interested in learning more about a career in HVAC as a technician, check out upcoming schedule of classes to find the session that best suits you.