Do You Really Need to Replace Your AC System with R-22 Refrigerant? Here’s What Experts Say

Kenneth Wilson

If your air conditioner at home passed its 10th birthday, it's likely to use R-22 refrigerant or commonly referred to by a brand name like Freon®. This substance was previously used in producing air conditioning units for residential and commercial purposes. But as of 2010, R-22 was discontinued for use in new AC units as it is found to be a harmful, ozone-depleting substance (ODS).

So if you're wondering if it is illegal to continue using your old AC system with R-2, the correct answer is no. Continued use of an air conditioner or heat pump system using the R22 refrigerant is still allowed in the country.

If anything, there are still many available R-22 models (although quite expensive), with the option to use alternate refrigerants for the system. Your local HVAC company will most likely keep this a secret from you, though. But if your AC system needs repair– expect to pay a hefty bill or have no choice but to replace the system entirely.

What Refrigerant is in Your AC?


Suppose your air conditioner was built before January 1, 2010. In that case, there's a good chance that it makes use of R-22 refrigerant. Sometimes, the refrigerant type in your AC can be quickly determined on a nameplate/label on the unit. But if you don't see one, it's best to consult a local professional AC technician to confirm the information.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implemented a production and import ban on AC and heat pump systems using the R-22 on January 1, 2010. But, the servicing needs of existing equipment continue.

Since the organization stopped producing and installing new R-22-using systems, many manufacturers opted to redesign existing systems to use another type of refrigerant, such as the R410A, which is notably chlorine-free (and friendlier to the environment).

What to do if Your AC Unit uses R-22


As previously mentioned, there is no need for you to replace your existing AC or heat pump system that uses the R-22 refrigerant. But, you will need to consider your options if the system needs emergency repairs. Expect two options: Have the unit repaired or replace it with a new one.

Option 1: Repair the Unit


This option may sound like a quick and easy fix to your system issues, but you'll find that the price of R-22 refrigerant is relatively high due to the shrinking supply. As such, you will need to prepare your budget accordingly.

Since supplies related to the R-22 is limited and highly scarce, it is only expected to soar in price eventually. So, you may pay more for a repair than you'd typically pay for a new AC or heat pump system down payment.

Important Note: Air conditioners and heat pumps do not consume refrigerant, as they will only flow through the system's coils. So, if your technician finds telling signs of a leak, they will need to locate and repair it instead of just topping off the area that is currently leaking.

Option 2: Replace your AC that Uses R-22 Refrigerant


If continuous repairs sound like endlessly putting money into your old AC unit, you may want to consider purchasing a new air conditioner instead.

New AC units in the market today likely offer innovative features and specs that weren't available back when you had your existing system. Several dealers also offer cost-efficient financing with low monthly payment options, allowing you to purchase a brand new unit without breaking the bank. (Related: Home AC Compressor Replacement Cost & Consumer Guide)

Whether you choose the first or the second option, it would be better to consult a licensed AC technician in your area to conduct routine maintenance activities. Remember that regular maintenance allows your AC to operate at its highest efficiency. It will also monitor several issues before they get out of control.

How to Check if your AC Uses R-22 Refrigerant


Fortunately, it doesn't take an expert to determine if your AC uses the R-22 refrigerant. Most AC units installed before 2010 are likely to run on R11, but relying on mere assumptions is not safe. Here are some ways you can follow to confirm which type of refrigerant your AC unit at home uses:

  • Find relevant information in the manual: It's time to find the owner manual that came with your AC unit when it was first installed. Most likely, the refrigerant type is stated there. The R-22 refrigerant is also called the HCFC-22, which you might want to keep in mind as you browse the manual.
  • Check the air conditioner’s nameplate (product specification label): Look at the AC unit's outdoor condenser to check if the case has a nameplate. This usually presents all the essential product specs of the unit, including the refrigerant type.
  • Talk to a local AC technician/professional: When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to contact a professional technician to inspect your unit. They can help you confirm whether or not your air conditioner uses the R-22 refrigerant. If you’ve worked with previous companies that serviced the unit before, they may have relevant information on their files. It won’t hurt to contact them again!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Is R-22 refrigerant illegal to use?

It is not illegal to own an R-22-powered AC unit. However, because it is prohibited to import or produce R-22, recycled R-22 will be the only available in strict supply. This will significantly increase the cost due to the limited supply and scarce availability of R-22.

What is a refrigerant, anyway?

Your AC refrigerant refers to the fluid that flows inside the system's coils. Thanks to the condenser, compressor, and evaporator– the refrigerant goes under several pressure levels to transform from liquid to gas. It also makes the substance either hot or cold. When the pressure changes, it absorbs or passes the heat to the air over the coils, which changes the temperature levels of the air. The end product is comfortable air that is evenly distributed throughout the home.

Should I consider purchasing a home with an R-22 AC unit?

There's a lot to admire about older houses. Their appeal is unmatched, and many people like the idea of possessing a piece of history. However, buying an older home has its downsides, especially if it comes with an ac unit built before 2010. Although having one of these systems is not illegal, you may be stuck with high repair bills if the unit fails once you purchase the house. Inquire about the AC unit if you're considering making an offer on an older home. Then, if R-22 is present, consider how this may affect your choice. Interested homeowners may use this information to negotiate for a lower price. Sometimes, they may intend to replace the unit once they claim ownership.

Important Note: If you're looking for a house that won't cost a lot of money, the one with an R-22 unit might not be the best option.

What are my alternative options for ACs with R-22 refrigerant?

When it's time to replace your R-22-using AC system, you can be confident that your new system will be more eco-friendly. As previously mentioned, one of the most typical R-22 alternatives is R410-A, a refrigerant that performs similarly to R-22 but does not harm the ozone layer. R410-A is also recognized as GENTRON AZ-20, SUVA® 410A, and PURON®, and is EPA-approved for use in your HVAC system.

Why did the U.S.A ban the R-22 refrigerant?

R-22 Freon has been prohibited in the U.S. by the EPA. R-22 contributes to ozone layer depletion, which absorbs UV radiation from the sun and protects people and the entire ecosystem from its damaging effects.

Kenneth Wilson
June 24, 2022
HVAC

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done. I also operate remodeling design service for homeowners.

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