What if My AC or Heat Pumps Still Uses R22 (Freon)?

If your AC or heat pump uses R22, then its days are numbered. First, it’s already more than 10 years old. Plus, R22 refrigerant is becoming scarcer – and more costly too as supplies dwindle.

The 2010 Clean Air Act and R22 Freon

The 2010 Clean Air Act states that R22, commonly referred to as Freon, can no longer be produced in the United States or imported into the US. The change went into effect on January 1, 2020. 

What’s the problem with R22? Primarily that R22 depletes ozone in the stratosphere, and the depletion of ozone allows an excess of solar radiation through. This is associated with global warming and other undesirable results.

What does this mean to homeowners? Can an R22 air conditioner or heat pump be repaired? Recharged with refrigerant? Are there substitutes?

For starters, if you have an air conditioning system or heat pump that was built before 2010 there is a very good chance that it uses R22 refrigerant.  Since R22 is no longer readily available, there are many concerns for homeowners with older HVAC units.  The only possible way to get R22 is if you obtain reclaimed or recovered supplies of it through a licensed HVAC contractor. The companies reclaiming it must clean it, and the result is reclaimed R22 that is just as pure and effective as new R22. 

In this article, we will help guide you through some of the options available if you have an air conditioner that uses R22 aka Freon.  Also, discussed will be what is replacing or what you can use to substitute for R22 and other possibilities that may be beneficial for your HVAC needs.

R22 AC or Heat Pump Options

What are some options if I have an R22 air conditioning system or heat pump?

You have three main options to consider for your R22 equipment: Recharge it, Retrofit it to work with a compatible refrigerant, or replace it with a new AC.

1). Your HVAC technician can obtain and use R22 or Freon to recharge your HVAC system. Some stocks of it, mainly reclaimed as noted, are available as of late 2021.

The EPA mandated ban does not make it illegal for homeowners to use R22, if you can get it and don’t mind paying its steep price – supply and demand, after all.

Remember that only a certified HVAC technician is legally authorized to obtain and handle refrigerant needed to recharge your HVAC system. 

2). Another option is to retrofit your current air conditioner or heat pump to use R421A or another suitable substitute instead of R22.  R421A is a newer type of refrigerant that can be substituted for R22. You do not need to do anything to your AC unit except make sure that all the R22 is out of the system prior to recharging it with R421A.   

3). A third option to consider if your air conditioning system uses R22 is to replace it with a new system. All current split system air conditioners and heat pumps use R410A refrigerant, which doesn’t deplete ozone. Plus, the new system will likely reduce energy costs – some of today’s equipment is amazingly efficient! SEER ratings of 16 to 25 are available. And the new equipment will be under warranty for 10+ years depending on the brand.

Air conditioners are generally expected to last for 10-15 years before they start to break down and parts will need to be replaced. Total lifespan of a well-maintained central air conditioner is up to 25 years, though it will surely need some repairs made during that time.

Rather than being nickeled and dimed for many different repairs as your HVAC system ages, many homeowners opt to have a licensed HVAC technician remove their old AC unit and replace it with a brand-new HVAC unit.

One factor to consider is how long you intend to live in your current home. If a move is coming soon, you might want to make the old unit work until you’re gone from the house. However, if you plan to be there long-term, then a new system is a worthwhile investment. 

R22 Substitute Refrigerants

Substituting a compatible refrigerant for R22 is always an option and there are a number of refrigerants that work.

One of the biggest factors in choosing a new refrigerant type is that it must work with mineral oil. Huh?

Compressors are lubricated with two types of oil. Mineral oil is used in air conditioning compressors that cycle R22. 

The newer and more common types of refrigerant are only compatible with synthetic oil.  You cannot mix the oils or use refrigerant that is not designed to be used with a specific type of oil, such as mineral oil or synthetic oil. Below are a list of possible R22 substitutes:

  • R438A
  • R422D
  • R421A
  • R407C

On the list of popular R22 refrigerant substitutes listed above, the only one that requires an oil change is the R407C. The other three substitutes are rated to be used with mineral oil.  Even though an oil change is required, R407C tends to be the most popular choice for HVAC technicians to use for a substitution for R22. 

What Refrigerant Can Be Mixed with R22?

This is a very quick and easy answer…...None of them!  It is illegal to mix any types of refrigerants due to the 609 EPA rule.  Not only is it illegal and subject to very hefty fines, but it also can cause damage to your air conditioning system and possibly make it unrepairable.  In short, do not mix R22 with anything and never mix any types of refrigerants.  If your HVAC technician has access to R22 or Freon they can recharge or “top off” your air conditioning system with it. 

When Does R22 Become Illegal?

Making and importing it is illegal as of January 1.  However, you are still allowed to operate and use air conditioning units or heat pumps that require R22 for the refrigerant needs. And as long as reclaimed supplies of R22 are available, it can be used to charge an air conditioner or heat pump that was made to use with it. 

Where Can I Buy R22 (Freon)?

Purchasing R22 is not legal for anyone without the proper HVAC certifications.  Your HVAC technician with the necessary EPA 608 certification is allowed to purchase and use R22 to recharge your AC unit.  Some HVAC equipment and supply wholesalers still have some in stock or your HVAC professional can find R22 by searching online. No doubt they’ll have a good idea of where to find the cheapest, purest reclaimed R22 available in your area. 

Repair or Replace your R22 AC or Heat Pump? 

So, if you have an older air conditioning unit or heat pump (pre-2010) that uses R22 for refrigerant, what should you do in the future?  Above we discussed the following options: recharge, retrofit, or replace.  Replacing an older air conditioning unit or heat pump is a difficult and expensive decision.  Below is a list of the cost for common repairs on an air conditioner, and if your unit is older, you’ve probably already run into some of these.

  • Replace condensate drain tube – $120 to $200
  • Replace condensate drain pump – $250 to $500
  • Replace drain pans – $260 to $600
  • Flush drain line – $80 to $260
  • Recharge refrigerant – $275 to $800
  • Repair refrigerant leak – $200 to $1,600
  • Replace compressor – $1,800 to $2,200
  • Repair outdoor fan motor – $220 to $675
  • Replace breakers, relays, or fuses – $80 to $300
  • Replace condenser coil – $2,000 to $3,000

If you have any major repairs, it is our professional recommendation that you put the money toward a new system.  The cost to purchase and have an air conditioner installed ranges from about $4,000 to $7,500 for the most popular types and sizes. However, depending on the size, SEER rating, and whether it is single-stage, two-stage, or a variable-capacity AC or heat pump, cost can exceed $10,000. 

Conclusion

Since it is illegal to produce or import R22 (Freon) it is going to continue to become more and more difficult to obtain that type of refrigerant.  Not only will it be hard to find, the price for R22 will continue to increase due to the lack of supply and amount of demand.  One of your best options is to use a substitute refrigerant that works well with your HVAC system. 

If you’re interested in the cost of a new system, feel free to use the Free Local Quotes phone number or information form on this page. There’s no cost, and you can discuss options and ask questions of some of the top air conditioning specialists in your area.

Related Topics

You might find the following pages on Pick HVAC to be useful as you consider what the best approach is to handling repairs to your aging R22 air conditioner or heat pump. 

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