Nothing lasts forever, especially in the heating and air conditioning world. Even refrigerants that have been used for decades can suddenly vanish from the market. R-22 is one such refrigerant that's currently in the middle of a great vanishing act, leaving many to scramble for alternatives.
Whether you're planning on installing a new HVAC system or refurbishing and maintaining your building's current system, there are plenty of options for dealing with the end of R-22 availability.
Why Is It Going Away?
R-22 is a well-known refrigerant that was once widely used in most residential and commercial heating and cooling equipment, including heat pumps and air conditioners. For the past few decades, it's remained an undisputed choice of refrigerant thanks to its performance and relative efficiency.
Unfortunately, it's also a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), a group of compounds that, once released into the atmosphere, actively damage the earth's protective ozone layer. The thinning ozone layer has been linked to a wide range of gradual yet harmful changes in the earth's climate.
As a result, the United States and other countries around the world have pledged to reduce their consumption of HCFCs and other harmful products that could negatively impact the ozone layer. This means a gradual phasing-out of R-22, starting with the end of new production for HVAC systems reliant on R-22 and culminating with the complete end of R-22 refrigerant production by 2020.
What Are Your Options?
It's important to know what your options are before you make a decision about your building's heating and cooling system. Currently, technicians and contractors have a choice between a complete system replacement and the use of a drop-in refrigerant replacement:
If you don't want to invest in a brand-new HVAC system just yet, you can take advantage of the many R-22 alternatives currently available on the market. R-407A and R-407C both come closest to offering an exact match of R-22's properties without the need of an expensive retrofitting or compromises in overall performance. Other refrigerants, such as R-422D and R-404A, require numerous component changes and other compromises before it passes muster as a drop-in replacement.
Then there's the issue of the lubricating oil. For example, the polyol ester (POE) oil used with R-407A and R-407C can mix with very small amounts of the mineral oil commonly used with R-22. Other refrigerants use incompatible lubricants, making a complete flush necessary to avoid unnecessary damage. Using the wrong lubricating oil can cause damage to the HVAC system.
Total System Replacement
Sometimes, it's much easier to replace an HVAC system altogether than to bear the time-consuming expense of a refrigerant retrofit. For this reason, a complete replacement of your current R-22-based refrigeration system may be the only other option available to you.
Many of today's HVAC systems are designed for use with R-410A, an environmentally-friendlier refrigerant that lacks the ozone-depleting properties of HCFCs. R-410A can't be used in systems currently running R-22, nor can R-22 be added to systems designed with R-410A in mind.
How Long Can You Keep Your Old System?
Make no mistake – HVAC systems using R-22 are on their way out. However, you still may have time to prepare for your capital investment in a new system by prolonging the life of your old one.
Most supplies of R-22 are now scavenged from other machines, a situation that'll become even more widespread as manufacturers wind down new R-22 production. Unfortunately, the increasing scarcity of this refrigerant will eventually make servicing with R-22 even more expensive in the future. In order to keep a handle on your annual heating and cooling costs, you may want to consider replacing your R-22 system before 2020. Your commercial heating repair specialist can help you make the best decision based on your needs and budget.