The R-22 Phase Out: What You Need to Know

18Apr2018
BY Burns Mechanical IN News

No matter how short or long a deadline is, it always approaches faster than you expect. If you are a building owner or facilities manager that is responsible for older HVAC equipment, you are probably aware of the quickly-approaching phase out of R-22 (also known as Freon) mandated by the U.S. EPA.

The discussion began all the way back in the summer or 1987, when 197 countries came together and signed the Montreal Protocol – the first international treaty to address a global environmental regulatory challenge. It called for a systematic phase out and eventual elimination of the use and production of ozone-depleting substances. Originally focused on CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and some other chemicals, the protocol has been amended eight times since 1987 to include additional substances as more was learned about the ozone and the substances that impact it. R-22, which is an HCFC (hydro chlorofluorocarbon), was added to the list in 1996.

Skip ahead to 2018, and we now have less than 24 months before R-22 is completely phased out. As a reference, here is the remaining R-22 phase out schedule for the United States:

 

As this production phase out continues, we can expect R-22 prices to keep increasing. Since the beginning of 2016, pricing has increased 70%, and industry experts are expecting that increases over the next 24 months are very likely to exceed that.

So, what are your options as an owner of older HVAC equipment?

REPAIR

Until January 1, 2020, you will still have the option to repair your system and install new refrigerant. You will be able to make repairs beyond that time but will be reliant on finding stockpiled or reclaimed R-22. The obvious downside to any repair that includes R-22 will be the overall cost of the refrigerant itself – which could potentially double or even triple over the next two years.

RETROFIT

Some equipment is eligible to be retrofitted with a replacement refrigerant. This is a good option for systems where replacement is too expensive or disruptive to the operation of your facility. Keep in mind that these retrofits are only an option for certain equipment and must be evaluated on a case by case basis. In addition, there is currently no one single replacement refrigerant with the versatility of R-22. There are also some technical limitations or tradeoffs on retrofits that need to be considered, such as capacity reduction, efficiency, higher pressures, or flammability concerns. Retrofit is likely to be a short-term solution, but could certainly extend the life of your equipment and give you time to plan and budget for a full replacement.

REPLACEMENT

Budget allowing, proactive replacement of equipment is the ideal option. Systems that were previously repaired to extend their life will now likely fall into your capital replacement budget. If you have a lot of older equipment to replace, we suggest establishing a priority list and schedule – which is something your HVAC service provider can help you develop.

Interested in learning more? We’re happy to start the conversation and to provide guidance for your 2018 planning – which will likely include a variety of decisions regarding your older HVAC systems.

In the meantime, here are some links to additional details from the EPA on the phase out plans and timelines: