We only have a single summer cooling season left before a new law banning the production of a particular air conditioning refrigerant comes into effect. In 2020, Freon will no longer be made, and it will be phased out entirely over time. So, what does this mean for homeowners that use HVAC systems that use Freon as a refrigerant? Will those homeowners need to replace their AC systems as soon as next year. Let’s take a closer look at how this change could affect your home cooling in the very near future.
The New 2020 Refrigerant Regulations
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are working hard to decrease the use of chemicals that have been determined to be harmful to our environment. Back in 1992, the EPA determined that hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) which are the chemicals used to enable refrigerators and AC system to cool needed to be phased out. A number of studies found the HCFCs contribute to ozone depletion and climate change. The chemical compounds are a relatively small portion of the greenhouses gases that are changing our climate, but they trap a great deal of heat into the atmosphere, and this increases carbon dioxide.
Freon as an Air Conditioning Refrigerant
For many decades, Freon or R-22 and HFCF-22 was the main refrigerant chemical used in most residential AC units and heat pump systems. The EPA has issued a mandate that Freon will cease production in January 2020, and over time the stocks of Freon will gradually decline and then cease entirely. But, this isn’t as bad as many people may think, after all, Freon is a danger to our environment, and it’s only used in very old air conditioning units. In fact, every new air conditioning system made since 2010 use a different type of refrigerant. Many AC system manufacturers switched over to Puron (R410A) almost a decade ago in preparation for the banning of Freon. Puron is a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), but research has shown that it isn’t a threat to the ozone layer. So, Puron has become the standard refrigerant used in residential HVAC system since 2015.
How Will This Affect Owners of Older AC Systems?
Many of the homeowners that would have been affected by the end of Freon production may have already switched to a more environmentally alternative. In preparation for this new legislation, HVAC professionals have gradually phased out the installation of Freon based AC systems over the last eight years. So, many of the older air conditioning systems that would have been affected have been replaced with units that use R410A refrigerant. Air conditioning systems should be replaced at least every decade anyway to ensure that they are effective and energy efficient. The air conditioning industry moves quickly, and there are consistent improvements made in performance, features, and energy efficiency all the time. Getting the latest AC equipment may seem expensive, but it’s often far cheaper to run, and it will provide a better level of indoor comfort for the users.
How Will Freon be Phased Out?
Freon is a particularly tricky environmental hazard to deal with if it leaks or when it’s disposed of in an incorrect manner. From January 2020, Freon will not be produced here or imported into our country, but of course, there will be limited stocks available for a while after. So, any HVAC units that use Freon for refrigeration that are still working well don’t necessarily need to be replaced immediately. These older aircon units can be recharged with Freon refrigerant from existing stocks of HCFC-22 until some time after the January 2020 date. After that time, the HVAC technicians working on those AC systems will need to source existing or even recycled stocks of Freon to keep this aging cooling equipment running.
The timeline for the replacement of Freon as a refrigerant for AC system manufactured prior to 2010 is summarized here as follows.
From now until January 2010: Older AC systems can still be recharged from existing stocks of Freon as usual.
January 2020: Freon production and importation ceases.
After January 2020: AC systems made before 2010 can still be recharged with increasingly rarer stocks of existing Freon and recycled refrigerant.
Can Older AC Systems be Retrofitted?
The EPA has stated that there is no legal requirement to purchase a new air conditioning system at this time. But, as stocks of Freon dwindle, it’s likely that many homeowners will just purchase a new AC system to replace their aging equipment anyway. But, many people are wondering about retrofitting their older air conditioning units to use a different refrigerant such as R410A. Sadly, retrofitting older equipment to use a refrigerant that doesn’t damage the ozone layer isn’t as simple as you may imagine. The latest air conditioning equipment has compressor units and other components that are designed to work with specific chemicals. But, there is a way that many homeowners will be able to avoid an entire AC system replacement to save money.
If the coils on the existing older equipment are compatible with the R410A refrigerant then retrofit is a possible option. In this case, the HVAC technician could simply replace the exterior unit and replace it with a newer model. There would be no need to modify any other components in the home, and although this is still an expensive option, it is a method that will allow the homeowner to keep their current AC system. Also, it’s worth mentioning that making a switch to R410A would make the older equipment more energy efficient, and that would offset the costs. If this option is pursued, it’s important to schedule regular maintenance to ensure that the retrofitted system will not leak and have an adverse effect on the environment.
Deciding to Replace Aging AC Systems
If the homeowner has an AC system that was manufactured prior to 2010, they may choose to replace it instead. The average useful lifespan of an air conditioning system is 10-15 years anyway. Choosing to replace the AC system now is probably a better option if the homeowner wants to get the best bang for their buck and ensure that they have greater long term energy savings.