Photo By BanksPhotos at istock
As of January 2020, some new laws came into effect relating to the use of refrigerants in AC units in the Fort Worth, TX area. Under those regulations, older refrigerants, including R-22 are being phased out. This doesn’t mean that older AC units will suddenly become illegal, but it may make heating and AC repair more difficult. So, before you spend a fortune on heating and AC repair, it pays to read up on the new rules.
What the R-22 Rules Mean for You
If you are a homeowner, you will probably have an idea of the importance of heating and AC repair and maintenance. Filters, fans, and compressors must be kept clean and any leaks identified promptly so that refrigerant levels can be topped up. It’s that last part that the new regulations may cause problems with when it comes to heating and AC repair.
Refrigerant is used to pull heat from the surrounding area and release it to another space. It does this through ‘phase changes’, going from fluid to gas and back again throughout the refrigeration cycle. There are many different kinds of refrigerants. Very early heating and AC units used CFCs, which were found to be harmful to the ozone layer, so were banned. R-22 was thought to be a more environmentally-friendly refrigerant but it was later found that it, too, is harmful to the environment.
A global phase-out of R-22 began in 2010. Since then, most brands have stopped making R-22-requiring air conditioning units, and while it has been OK to sell R-22 to top-up old units, many people have opted to get their units replaced or to have them converted to run a newer refrigerant variation instead.
As of 2020, part 2 of the phase-out will begin. This means that no more R-22 can be made. Any R-22 that heating and AC repair companies or manufacturers already have stockpiled can still be sold for the purposes of repairing existing air conditioning units in Fort Worth, TX. If a heating and AC repair company decommission an air conditioning unit or replace the refrigerant in it, they are not allowed to simply vent the R22 into the air, because it is harmful to the environment. Rather, they must collect it for recycling, or reclaim it so that it can be used to top up someone else’s AC unit.
R-22 Prices Are Likely to Increase
If you have an air conditioning unit that is a few years old and that relies on R-22, there is no need to panic in the short term. There are huge amounts of R-22 stockpiled, and most heating and AC repair companies will be able to keep your unit working well for the next couple of years. However, prices will likely increase as supplies dwindle.
That’s not to say that you should keep your old AC unit indefinitely. Air conditioning units are expected to last about 10 to 20 years. Given the climate in Fort Worth, TX, it’s likely that your AC unit gets a lot of use, so the lifespan of the unit might skew towards the shorter end of that timescale and you will need to be proactive about heating and AC repair. Regular servicing performed by a heating and AC repair company can extend the lifespan of your air conditioning unit, but should the unit ever develop a leak, that is a sign that it is probably worth replacing it. In the short term, you can plug the leak and top up the refrigerant, but once a leak has happened once it is likely that it will happen again.
The R-22 phase-out is near completion in some parts of the world, and there is already an increase in demand for refrigerant among business owners that do not want to spend a lot of money on new units at this moment in time. Hotel owners, for example, that have a lot of units to take care of are stockpiling refrigerant to avoid being taken by surprise when supplies dwindle. This is not something that the average homeowner should be doing when there are better ways to keep your costs low. Getting your unit retrofitted to take a replacement refrigerant, for example, might buffer you against the cost of R-22 increasing in the coming years, and costs less than getting a new unit. Of course, if you an update your HVAC to a newer system with a lower running cost then it may well make sense to do so if you are planning on living in your home for a long time.
Older HVAC Units Are Less Efficient
Another thing that some heating and AC repair companies don’t like to talk about is that repairs can be a false economy. Those older units are often far less efficient than newer units, especially newer units that are designed to run modern refrigerants.
There air some new refrigerants that are ‘drop in replacements’ for R-22, and that will be compatible with most older air conditioning units. There are also some refrigerants that, while not completely compatible with older units, will work if the old HVAC unit is retrofitted to be able to use them. This usually means updating the compressor.
Retrofitting your HVAC unit, or changing over the refrigerant, can be a good stopgap if you do not have room in your budget to completely replace the unit. However, the running costs of older HVAC systems can be quite high. You may well find that if you replace your HVAC system with a newer one you save money on running costs, repairs and refrigerants in the long term.
Which Refrigerants Are the Most Efficient and Environmentally Friendly?
Prior to the 1990s, the most well-known refrigerant was R-12. This was a CFC. When it was found that CFCs were bad for the environment, they were replaced by HCFCs, of which R-22 is the most common. CFCs are ChloroFluoroCarbons, HCFCs are HydroChloroFluorCarbons. It turns out that it’s the chlorine which is the problem.
It was found that HCFCs were still a potential cause of global warming, so the next step in the attempt to reduce the potential damage was to remove that first ‘C’ from HCFC, to make HFCs, or ‘HydroFluroCarbon’. While HFCs still have some potential for global warming, they do not damage the ozone layer, which makes them a huge improvement. Remember that these gasses aren’t just used in air conditioning. Fridges and freezers have refrigerant in them as well.
Another option, that is even more environmentally friendly, is HC – HydroCarbons. These are chlorine and halogen-free, do not deplete the ozone layer, and have minimal global warming potential.
Propane and iso-butane are two examples of HCs. They go by the names R-290 and R-600A. They are highly energy-efficient, but they are also highly flammable. In theory, they are safe when they are contained within an appliance, but since they are flammable it means that they must be handled with care and that any appliances that contain them should be serviced regularly. These refrigerants go by brand names as well as numbers, but the numbers are useful to know since more than one company may be able to sell some of them, depending on their patent status.
Refrigerants are ranked based on their Global Warming Potential. Lower numbers mean that the refrigerant is more environmentally friendly.
For comparison, the Global Warming Potential of R-22 is 1810, and this refrigerant has some potential to deplete the ozone layer. R-410A, which is being marketed as a potential replacement for R-22, does not deplete the ozone layer but it has a Global Warming Potential of 2088.
R-290 and R-600A have a Global Warming Potential of 3. As you can see, the difference between older refrigerants and their modern alternatives is huge.
The difference isn’t just in terms of environmental friendliness, either. R-22 does not absorb as much heat as some of the other air conditioning refrigerants, which means that there is more chance of the compressor burning out over time. R-410A, while having a greater global warming potential, absorbs and releases heat more readily, which allows the compressor to run cooler. This can extend the lifespan of your compressor.
The more modern refrigerants are even more energy-efficient when it comes to heat exchange, although some of them work better at specific temperatures. It is worth seeking advice from a heating and AC repair company to determine which refrigerants would suit your needs best.
Should You Update Your Air Conditioning?
Deciding to buy a new air conditioning unit can be a significant financial commitment. If you’re not sure whether or not you can afford to right now, or whether it would be a sound financial decision, consider the following.
- How old is your current unit?
- How much are you spending on heating and AC repair?
- What refrigerant do you currently run?
- Do you have a programmable thermostat?
- Did your last heating and AC repair visit involve ‘topping off’ your refrigerant?
- Is your current AC unit the right size for your property?
- What are your energy bills?
- Would you be buying up-front or on finance?
If you are finding that every time you call out a heating and AC repair technician to service your unit, they end up having to top-off your refrigerant levels, or diagnose a leak in the AC unit, then you are probably wasting a lot of money on repairs. You should not be needing heating and AC repair work every year, beyond the regular service and maintenance to keep the unit ticking over.
If you are considering buying a new air conditioning unit, you should make sure that it is the right size for the space that you want it to cool. Too large, and the unit will need to run constantly to keep the space cool and may not actually be able to do it, no matter how hard the compressor works. Too small, and the unit will struggle to keep the space at the correct temperature because it will have to constantly cycle on and off. Both of these ‘faults’ will increase your overall energy consumption.
Consider getting a unit with a programmable thermostat, if you do not have one already. This will reduce the amount that you have to spend on heating because the thermostat will adjust the temperature that the air conditioning is aiming for depending on the time of day.
Your new unit will still need to be serviced regularly by a qualified heating and AC repair technician to make sure that the filters are clean, that the pressure of the refrigerant is appropriate and that there are no leaks. A good heating and AC repair service will also check wiring, seals, and the fans and ductwork to make sure that everything is working as it should be. You should have services carried out annually, ideally at a time of year when the air conditioning will not be needing to run constantly so that you can have any repairs done without too much inconvenience. Plus, who wants their air conditioning to break during the hottest and most humid day of the year, when your friendly Fort Worth, TX heating and AC repair company is fully booked with emergency repairs?
Regular maintenance will keep your air conditioning unit working as well as possible, and will reduce the cost of having to top up refrigerant or repair leaks. This is one area where prevention really is better than cure. So, if your current AC unit has already sprung a leak more than once, it may be worth asking about options for repairs and replacement.
If you would like to know more about your options when it comes to the R-22 phase out, have been having issues with your heating or AC, or would like to get your air conditioning fixed, be sure to give One Hour Air Conditioning and Heating a call today. We would be happy to advise you on your options.