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Charging a heat pump system with R-22 refrigerant

Is Your HVAC Ready for the R-22 Refrigerant Ban?

If you haven’t been on the pulse of HVAC legislation recently, you may have missed a pretty big deal: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is officially phasing out use of R-22 refrigerant (also known as HCFC-22) on January 1. It’s a big deal because your equipment probably uses R-22. Here’s what you need to know about the changes and what you can do to get ready for the R-22 ban.

What is R-22 Refrigerant and Why Is It Being Banned?

Since 1987, the United States and 197 countries have taken steps to regulate the use of substances that may damage the ozone layer and contribute to global warming. Some of these were phased out in the ‘90s, but some, like R-22, are still in use across the country. In fact, it’s the number one most-used refrigerant in commercial and residential HVAC equipment today.

R-22 is another name for chlorodifluoromethane, a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (or HCFC) commonly used in air conditioning equipment like rooftop units and other standard components of HVAC systems. Because of the potential of HCFCs to damage the ozone layer, the EPA banned the production, import, and use of most HCFCs in 2015. On January 1, 2020, it’s banning the rest – including R-22.

Who Needs to Worry About This?

Because R-22 is so widely used, virtually every commercial and residential building in America will be affected by the EPA’s ban. That usually means getting new equipment or trying to squeeze a few more years out of your old equipment (more on that below).

While the R-22 refrigerant ban is effective immediately on January 1, R-22 will circulate in systems across America through recycling programs or stockpiles in the supply chain. Those won’t last forever, though – and neither will the equipment that already uses R-22.

What Can You Do to Get Ready for the R-22 Refrigerant Ban?

When 2020 rolls around, you’ll basically have two real choices:

  1. Do nothing and see how long it lasts. It won’t be legal to produce or import R-22 after January 1, 2020 but it’ll still be legal to use existing supplies or recycled product in your equipment. As long as the R-22 lasts, you’ll be able to use it. While we can’t predict the future, we don’t expect R-22 to be available for much longer. Additionally, technical advancements make new equipment much more efficient and cost-effective – and with no new R-22 being manufactured, it won’t be long before you’ll have to buy new equipment, anyway.
  2. Replace your current equipment. The life expectancy of a rooftop unit that uses R-22 is about 15 years, according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Whether or not your equipment is that old yet, the benefits of upgrading are numerous: increased efficiency, lower costs and better performance are always great reasons to replace old equipment.  For buildings with 25-ton RTU equipment or less using R-22, replacing the equipment will likely be the solution.

For equipment over 25 tons, you might want to consider using a replacement refrigerant. It’s not as easy as dropping in a replacement, though; replacements to R-22 are less efficient and some can cause circulation issues, leading to a potential multi-day shutdown depending on the size of your equipment. As of this writing, no market leader for a drop-in R-22 replacement has emerged. We expect that to happen in the next five years.

If you need to update your systems to get ready for the R-22 refrigerant ban, or if you’re still not sure how it affects you, give us a call at (952) 884-1661 or mbokenewicz@yalemech.com. Our skilled technicians can help you develop a plan for dealing with the R-22 refrigerant ban.

Blog Author

Mike Bokenewicz

Project Manager at Yale for 15 years and in mechanical contracting for 27. Mike is EPA-certified in refrigerant handling and focuses on design-build engineering for Yale Mechanical’s HVAC & Piping disciplines.

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