Aside from knowing how much the energy bill is, relatively few people concern themselves with what flows through the coils of their air conditioning unit’s compressor and cooling department.
But in the coming months, AC units may become top of mind for many Americans. That’s because R-22, the cooling agent traditionally used in most air conditioners, is going away.
R-22 phase-out: What you need to know
A U.S. government ban on R-22 is set to take effect on January 1, 2020.
The ban has been preceded by a gradual phase-out, which is part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) plan to rid the United States of all ozone-depleting substances. In essence, R-22 is harmful to the environment.
Because the phase-out has been going on over the past decade, the price of R-22 has gone up considerably (you’ve probably felt it in your wallet).
Whether you need to buy a new unit, retrofit your old unit or replace some component parts to comply with the EPA ban largely depends on a few things.
But first, you may want to know whether your AC (or your refrigerator) uses R-22 or not.
How to know what kind of refrigerant your unit uses
On an air conditioner, you should be able to find what type of refrigerant it uses at the following places:
- Owner’s manual
- Manufacturers website (know your model number)
- Call your local hardware store and tell them your unit info and they should be able to tell you
On your fridge, you can look for a refrigerant label in the following places:
- Manufacturer’s data plate
- On a sticker atop or near the condenser
- Outside the unit, sometimes on or near the condenser
Another way to find out…
If you know the year your system was manufactured, that could help you find out what type of refrigerant your unit uses. Typically, if it was manufactured before 1996, your unit uses R-22.
The environmentally friendly R-410A came on the U.S. residential market in 1996. From that time on until 2010, both R-22 and R-410A units were sold.
If you bought your AC unit or refrigerator after 2010 — which is when the EPA told manufacturers to stop making R-22-friendly units — it likely runs on R-410A, the agency says.
Best R-22 alternatives
Here’s the thing: Consumers aren’t required to stop using their ACs and refrigerators due to the ban on R-22.
The EPA says quite clearly: “No. You will not have to stop using HCFC-22 [on January 1, 2020], and you will not have to replace existing equipment just to switch to a new refrigerant.”
It’s not a reach to say that at some point, R-22-only units will become obsolete. In fact, as of 2010, the EPA has outlawed both the manufacture and installation of new HCFC-22 appliances.
When it’s time to purchase a new unit, you’ll be looking for the best R-22 alternatives. Here’s what you need to know:
- R-410A has become the dominant choice for most AC manufacturer, but R-454B, used by Carrier, is also an emerging alternative.
- For refrigerators, R-404A is the top choice, along with R-507, according to the EPA.
- You may hear some HVAC technicians talk about Puron or Suva 410A. Puron is Carrier’s brand name for R-410A. Suva 410A is the DuPont brand name for R-410A.
If you have some questions about R-410A, especially its safety, the EPA answers many relevant questions in this FAQ.