What does the R-22 phase out mean for consumers? The following paragraphs are an attempt to answer this question.

The Clean Air Act does not allow any refrigerant to be vented into the atmosphere during installation, service, or retirement of equipment. Therefore, R-22 must be:

• recovered and recycled (for reuse in the same system)
• reclaimed (reprocessed to the same purity levels as new R-22)
• destroyed

After 2020 the servicing of R-22-based systems will rely on recycled refrigerants. It is expected that reclamation and recycling will ensure that existing supplies of R-22 will last longer and be available to service a greater number of systems.

As noted above, chemical manufacturers will be able to produce R-22 for use in new A/C equipment until 2010, and they can continue production of R-22 until 2020 for use in servicing that equipment. Given this schedule, the transition away from R-22 to the use of ozone-friendly refrigerants should be smooth.

For the next 20 years or more, R-22 should continue to be available for all systems that require R-22 for servicing. While consumers should be aware that prices of R-22 may increase as supplies dwindle over the next 20 or 30 years, the EPA believes that consumers are not likely to be subjected to major price increases within a short time period.

Although there is no guarantee that service costs of R-22 will not increase, the lengthy phaseout period means that market conditions should not be greatly affected by the volatility and resulting refrigerant price hikes that have characterized the phaseout of R-12, the refrigerant used in automotive airconditioning systems, which has been replaced by R-134a.

Alternatives for residential air conditioning will be needed as R-22 is gradually phased out. Non-ozone depleting alternative refrigerants are being introduced. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA reviews alternatives to ozone-depleting substances like R-22 in order to evaluate their effects on human health and the environment.

The EPA has reviewed several of these alternatives and has compiled a list of acceptable substitutes. One of these substitutes is R-410A, a blend of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) substances that does not contribute to depletion of the ozone layer but, like R-22, does contribute to global warming.

R-410A is manufactured and sold under various trade names, including Genetron AZ 20, SUVA 410A®, and Puron. Additional refrigerants on the list of acceptable substitutes include R-134a and R 407C. These two refrigerants are not yet available for residential applications in the U.S. but are commonly found in residential A/C systems and heat pumps in Europe.

EPA will continue to review new non-ozone-depleting refrigerants as they are developed. Existing units using R-22 can continue to be serviced with R-22. There is no EPA requirement to change or convert R-22 units for use with a non-ozone-depleting substitute refrigerant. In addition, the new substitute refrigerants cannot be used without making some changes to system components.

As a result, service technicians who repair leaks will continue to charge R-22 into the system as part of that repair. The transition away from ozone-depleting R-22 to systems that rely on replacement refrigerants like R-410A has required redesign of heat-pump and air-conditioning systems. New systems incorporate compressors and other components specially designed for use with specific replacement refrigerants.

With these significant product and production process changes, testing and training must also change. Consumers should be aware that dealers of systems that use substitute refrigerants should be schooled in installation and service techniques required for use of that substitute refrigerant.

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