Have you recently had your air conditioner recharged only to be horrified by the increase in cost? If you have an older air conditioner, this might sound sadly too familiar. No, this isn’t yet another instance of global shortages driving up prices. Rather, this is a byproduct of regulations put in place by the EPA to protect our environment. Starting in 2020, the EPA completely banned all production and importing of a common refrigerant substance known as R-22, or Freon in common terms, and that alone has driven up costs for those who still rely on old air conditioners.
However, there is some good news: for the majority of homeowners, you probably don’t have to do anything. In fact, the ban might not even impact you at all if you own a modern air conditioner. For those who do still rely on Freon, this blog has some helpful information that can help you plan for the future by explaining what you need to know today and what you should expect when it comes to your air conditioner.
Freon Is Environmentally Terrible
Freon was initially developed quite a long time ago—back in the 1930s, to be exact. Before long, it became the gold standard for refrigerant fluid used in virtually all air conditioning systems. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, when construction surged as homeownership skyrocketed, Freon was installed in virtually every home across the country. It was hard to find a system that didn’t run on the stuff.
However, it was around this time that researchers began to connect Freon to environmental damage. Whether it was accidentally spilled during a routine recharge service or it evaporated as an old air conditioner was scrapped and thrown in a junkyard, the impact that Freon was having on our atmosphere was distinctly noticeable, and researchers saw a severe dip in the health of the ozone layer—an important part of our atmosphere that protects us from some of the sun’s most harmful radiation.
Fast forward a few more years and the world decided to take action. The Montreal Accords were ratified by over 200 countries around the world at the United Nations in the 1980s, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency set a long timeline for gradually phasing Freon out of use. While other refrigerants did exist at this point, few were known to have the same affordability and performance as Freon. Today, however, this is no longer the case, as many suitable alternatives that are far safer for the environment are now in widespread use.
Surging Freon Prices
Part of the EPA’s timeline for phasing out Freon was to limit the amount of the material that was produced domestically and imported from abroad, with limits tightening as years went by. On January 1, 2020, the ban reached its peak as all domestic production of R-22 Freon was halted and all international import of R-22 was banned as well. In short, no new Freon is being made, and no new Freon can legally be brought into the country. All we have is what we have left.
For this reason, Freon costs have skyrocketed. What used to cost just a few dollars per pound now regularly goes for well over a few hundred dollars per pound, and that makes even a simple recharge service a monumentally expensive undertaking. However, this is only true for the select few people who still have an air conditioner that relies on R-22.
Does your air conditioner still rely on Freon? There’s a good chance it probably doesn’t. In fact, Freon has not been the refrigerant of choice shipped with new air conditioning units for nearly two decades now. If your air conditioner was built after the year 2000, then there is a strong chance your air conditioner already uses an alternative refrigerant that is much easier and more affordable to buy. Only those systems that are approaching approximately 30 years in age are the ones that might feel the squeeze from this ban. And when you consider that most air conditioners will generally only last 25 to 30 years at the most, there’s a good chance they will probably need to be replaced and brought out of circulation anyway.
Is My Air Conditioner Illegal?
What if you have an air conditioner that still runs on Freon? Do you have to put a new refrigerant in it to make it legal? No, this isn’t advisable. Air conditioners are designed to work with the chemical properties of the refrigerant they are shipped with, and swapping refrigerants typically causes catastrophic failure. Don’t do this.
Do you have to replace your air conditioner completely then? No, you don’t have to do that either. The ban only affects R-22 production, not use. If your air conditioner still uses the stuff, it is still perfectly legal. However, you won’t be able to buy a new air conditioner that uses R-22, and the age of your air conditioner probably means you will need to have your system replaced anyway.Want to avoid the prospect of an expensive recharge service and save on your energy bills? Upgrade your old air conditioner to a modern system that offers superior performance and efficiency! Call the team at Winters® Home Services at (617) 977-3101 to learn more.