R22 Replacement: What You Need to Know

By: Julie Thompson

R22, also known as hydrochlorofluorocarbon 22 (HCFC-22), is a refrigerant responsible for absorbing and removing heat from your air conditioner, heat pump, and car air conditioning system.

Unfortunately, R22 is a contributor to global warming and the depletion of earth’s ozone layer. To reduce its harmful effects on the environment, R22 is being phased out of production and will become illegal to use on January 1, 2020. The R22 phase-out meets the standards set by the U.S. Clean Air Act.

After the phase-out, R22 will be available only from reclaimed, recycled, or old stock. This will create a price hike and ultimately make it more difficult to maintain existing R22 units. However, units made after 2010 can use R22 alternatives such as R410A, R134A, R407C, and R407A. These refrigerants cool just as effectively as R22 without the ozone depleting features, and they have an acceptable Global Warming Potential (GWP).

If your unit runs on R22, you can replace it with a refrigerant alternative yourself or contact a professional to help you switch out the refrigerant. If the above options aren’t viable, you do have the option of installing a new, modern system in which an R22 alternative is already in place.

R22 refrigerant replacement

The following options are long-term solutions for replacing R22. For a quick temporary fix, you can use a “drop-in” refrigerant. Drop-in refrigerants decrease the cooling capacity of your system and put wear on your AC unit. These refrigerants are a temporary fix and should be used only if absolutely necessary.

How to replace R22 yourself

You may continue using R22 even after the stop of production in 2020. However, getting your hands on R22 will get increasingly difficult as people with older systems will be competing for any R22 that’s left. Eventually, this refrigerant will become completely unavailable.

Keep in mind that a system running R22 was likely made before 2011 and will be at least 10 years old in 2020. These existing systems are already running at a decreased capacity due to age and may not be worth investing in.

If you do end up refilling your unit with R22, remember to fix any leaks you find in the refrigerant lines. 

Hiring a contractor to replace R22

If your R22 cooling system is down and you can’t afford a new system, a certified contractor may be able to retrofit your current unit using Freon™ MO99 refrigerant.

Freon™ MO99 is an eco-friendly R22 alternative and can help revive older systems that have little to no refrigerant charge or need a component replaced. This is also one of the more affordable R22 replacement cost options. 

A contractor can convert your system without changing the oil (Freon™ MO99 is compatible with mineral oil, Alkyl Benzene (AB) oil, and polyolester (POE) oil), cutting out the compressor, or changing lines.

Installing a new system

If your system is not compatible with other replacement refrigerants, you’ll either have to source R22 to keep your system running or purchase a system replacement that uses more affordable refrigerant options. You can save money by installing a new system, help the environment, and reduce your energy bills and repair costs. Plus, the installation of a new cooling system will increase the resale value of your home.

What to do with leftover refrigerant

An R22 unit cannot be placed in a standard garbage can or dumpster because it’s illegal for this substance to be haphazardly leaked into the environment (per the Clean Air Act and EPA).

If you have leftover refrigerant in an old unit or in coolant lines, the best way to dispose of it is to call a professional. An HVAC technician can drain the refrigerant lines with the correct equipment. This is part of a replacement service they provide when switching to an R22 alternative or installing a newer system.

Alternative refrigerants

A few popular R22 alternatives are R410A, R134A, R407C, R407A, MO99, and RS-44b.

R22 alternative Used in Benefits
R410A
  • Industrial refrigeration
  • Residential air conditioning
  • Industrial air conditioning
  • Commercial centrifugal compressors
This type of refrigerant is safe for the environment, affordable, and easy to store, use, and transport.
R134A
  • Domestic refrigeration
  • Commercial refrigeration
  • Transport refrigeration
  • Residential air conditioning
  • Commercial centrifugal compressors
  • Mobile air conditioning
Eco-friendly, non-flammable, and non-toxic, R134A is one of the more affordable alternatives and comes with a single component for easy installation.
R407C
  • Industrial refrigeration
  • Residential air conditioning
  • Commercial air conditioning
R407C is retrofit for R22 and safe for the environment.
R407A
  • Commercial refrigeration
  • Plug-ins
  • Vending machines
This HFC blend offers a substantially lower carbon footprint and improved energy efficiency.
MO99 (R438A)
  • Commercial refrigeration
  • Plug-ins
  • Vending machines
  • Industrial refrigeration
  • Residential air conditioning
This alternative is ale to retrofit to current R22 systems, doesn’t require oil changes, and is safe for the environment.
RS-44b
  • Refrigeration systems
This type of refrigerant is a direct replacement to R22. It offers the same flow rate as R22, has a lower pressure than R407A, demonstrates lower energy consumption, is the lowest GWP R22 replacement, and requires no oil or system component change.

One con of most R22 alternatives is when POE oil is used, it can cause excess moisture, causing acid buildup within the refrigerant lines. Refrigerant alternatives also operate at a higher pressure causing more wear and tear on components.

Tip: When using alternative refrigerants, you should never combine them with R22 or other gases. R22 should always be drained completely before using an alternative.

Benefits of replacing R22

The benefits of replacing R22 greatly outweigh its upkeep. Even if you don’t consider yourself environmentally friendly, you might be swayed by the money you can save. Here are just a few benefits of R22 replacement:

  • It’s better for the environment—Just by ditching R22, you can significantly reduce the number of harmful chemicals you contribute to the environment. Switching to an R22 alternative cuts down on ozone depletion and global warming.
  • You can reduce cooling costs—Older units are prone to wear and tear and can lose coolant through leaky lines or decrease in energy efficiency year over year. Not only will this lead to a breakdown, it can increase cooling costs over time. Get a new HVAC system to avoid these costs.
  • It will contribute to a more efficient cooling unit—Have you ever felt warm in your home when the air conditioning was running full blast? An older unit has to work harder on hot days to keep your home cool. Investing in a newer unit can make a significant difference in the temperature inside your home. You might even notice that your thermostat can be set at a higher temperature and still offer comfortable temperatures. 
  • R22 alternatives are cheaper to maintain—Installing a new unit with an R22 alternative will be cheaper to maintain in the long run. Since the R22 be difficult to source come 2020, some HVAC companies will forgo R22 altogether due to its scarcity. Meanwhile, R22 alternatives will be in full production and much easier to afford and obtain. Your best bet is to upgrade your refrigerant before R22 phases out completely and take advantage of local specials and energy cost savings.

Replacing R22 units is an upfront investment that you may have not been ready to make. However, the sooner you can properly dispose of remaining R22, the better it will be for the environment, your health, and your wallet.

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