R22 refrigerant is being phased out because of something known as the Montreal Protocol, which is an agreement between most of the major world powers that says that they will collectively stop using R22 and other HCFC refrigerants over the next few years. R22 is already completely phased out in Europe, and it will be phased out in the United States in 2020.
When the phase out completes, no new R22 will be allowed to be imported or manufactured in the country, and the only R22 that will be on sale will be stock that contractors and maintenance companies have stockpiled, and stock that they have reclaimed from phased out units. It will still be legal to use air conditioning units that are powered by R22, but if you ever need to ‘recharge’ the unit then you will find that the gas will be expensive and hard to source.
Your Options Post Phase Out
The ideal option, when R22 is phased out, would be to replace your air conditioning unit with a new one that is more energy efficient, more reliable, and costs less to run. However, not everyone is in a position where they can afford to do this, and the good news is that there are other options.
Most units that are powered by R22 now can be retrofitted to use other refrigerants. The challenge when it comes to using other refrigerants is that most of the other gasses need a different type of compressor to work properly. Retrofitting an older unit with a hermetic compressor will allow you to use other gases, and is far less expensive than replacing the entire unit.
There are some refrigerants that are ‘drop-in replacements’ for R22, and these could be a good option if you want to stop using R22 and do not want to have to retrofit a large number of air conditioning units. One of the most interesting replacements is TDX 20 created by Bluon. This is a drop-in replacement for R22 that can be used in systems with an expansion device and a capillary. There is no need to change any of the lubricants with this refrigerant because it is compatible with POE oils as well as mineral oil and alkyl benzene oils. RS-44 is also known as R424A and has an A1 classification. It has low discharge temperatures and can offer energy savings of 10 to 20 percent compared to R22 when swapped out in any given unit.
RS-45 is another option although one that is primarily marketed to OEMs. It can be used to replace R22 across a wide range of applications, not just HVAC, but also for refrigeration. RS-45 cannot be used in systems with a capillary, but it is quite versatile when used in applications with an expansion device. It is non-flammable and has a lower discharge temperature than R22.
RS-52 is another replacement option, one that works well at low temperatures. It is designed to withstand R502 pressures and is also useful in flooded systems. This is not likely to be used in domestic applications but does have some applications in a commercial space.
What to Look for In Replacements
When you are looking for replacement refrigerant, you should take into account the Global Warming Potential, or GWP, of each refrigerant. As a general rule, lower is better when it comes to GWP, but all of the viable replacements for R22 have vastly lower global warming potential than R22 does, so they are all considered to be a step up.
R410A, which was one of the early candidates to replace R22, has a GWP of 1900, and if someone were to choose R32 over R410A then they would cut the GWP significantly, since R32 has a GWP of just 677.
As well as GWP, there is also the ODP – Ozone Depleting Potential, to take into account. Again, lower is better with this metric, and the best refrigerants to choose would have minimal GWP and ODP. You may be restricted in terms of what refrigerants you can choose based on the type of air conditioning unit that you have. You may also find that some gases are better than others based on the average temperature of the area you need to cool. Your contractor will be able to help you with that and offer you advice on the refrigerant that will offer the best performance. The good news is that all of the replacement refrigerants should offer a step up in performance compared to R22, so you will see some cost savings immediately. If, at some point, you are able to upgrade your unit to a newer one then you will see even more cost savings as well as enjoying a quieter and more efficient unit.
Don’t Fall for Scammers
As the phase out deadline draws nearer we are going to see more and more scammers trying to take advantage of the confusion about the new rules. One thing that some disreputable companies are saying is that it is illegal to use R22 at all. This is incorrect. You can continue to use your existing system. However, if your R22 based HVAC unit were to spring a refrigerant leak it would be illegal for a contractor to just replace the gas without fixing the leak because this would mean that they were knowingly releasing HCFCs into the atmosphere. They are obliged to fix the leak.
If you decommission an old HVAC system that contains HFCF then you are legally required to make sure that it is disposed of properly. Your contractor will drain the unit and then either safely dispose of the gas or reclaim it to use in other units that are still operational.
Your air conditioning is not going to just stop working after the phase out date, and you have a number of options when it comes to replacement gases and retrofits that will allow you to keep using your unit until such as time as you are able to replace it.