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What Commercial Building Owners Need to Know about Freon Law Change

by Patti Althoff - Siwicki | Jan 29, 2020 | Property Manager, HVAC, Facility Manager | 0 Comments

Have you heard about the upcoming freon law change? If you aren’t, you should know that R-22, which is known by the brand name Freon, will be illegal in the United States as of Jan. 1, 2020. This means that R-22 cannot be manufactured or imported into the country. If you have an HVAC system that operates using R-22, you will still be able to operate that system. However, the next time you need a repair that requires a refrigerant refill, you may not be able to get more R-22 due to the decreasing availability as current supplies dwindle. 

Understanding the Phase-Out Timeline of R-22 Refrigerant althoff-freon

The phase-out of R-22 refrigerant started in 2010 with the EPA’s ban on the product. At that time, new HVAC systems could not be manufactured if they used R-22, and previously manufactured R-22-using HVAC systems were not allowed to be installed in any structure. However, building owners could still get R-22 for systems that were installed prior to January 1, 2010. On January 1, 2020, this changes, and even existing systems may not be able to get anymore R-22. If R-22 is available, those who need it will experience a huge increase in the cost of the refrigerant due to increasingly limited supplies. 

Why R-22 Was Banned 

R-22 refrigerant was banned because it contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer. This is because it is a hydro-chlorofluorocarbon. The ozone layer in Earth’s atmosphere protects us from ultraviolet radiation, which can cause skin cancer and certain problems in human eyes, like cataracts. Hydro- chlorofluorocarbons arm harmful to the ozone layer because once they become airborne, the molecules attach themselves to the oxygen in the ozone molecules. The combination of the oxygen in the hydro- chlorofluorocarbon and the oxygen in the ozone molecule creates molecular oxygen. Once the process is complete, the chlorine atom separates and moves on to a new ozone molecule. The bad news is that the molecular oxygen does not prevent UV rays from reaching Earth, which means the continued release of hydro-chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere has the potential to completely destroy the Earth’s protective ozone layer. In order to prevent this from happening, it was deemed that R-22 must be banned. 

R-22 and Existing HVAC Systems 

If your commercial HVAC system was installed prior to 2010, it may use R-22 refrigerant. Up until this point, you were still able to get R-22 for the maintenance needs of your existing system, and you may not have noticed any changes other than an increase in your refrigerant costs. 

After the first of this year, you will still be able to operate your R-22-using HVAC system, but if it needs a repair that calls for the addition of coolant, it may not be available. R-22 HVAC systems also cannot use other types of coolants that are legal, like R-410A or R-407C. In fact, there is no direct replacement for R- 22 and mixing different types of refrigerants is not advised. 

The refrigerant that most closely resembles R-22 is R-407C. It is less efficient than R-22 but it’s operating characteristics are very similar. This means that if you have an R-22 system, you may be able to have it converted to R-407C, but you must have the system converted. It’s not enough to simply drain all the R- 22 from your HVAC system and fill it with R-407C. You will still need a new compressor. 

Understanding Your Options When It Comes to Keeping Your HVAC System Running 

It’s important to understand that in the near future, the United States will not have anymore R-22 available, and as the existing supplies shrink, the price of R-22 will exponentially increase. In the short term, you will still be able to operate your existing HVAC unit and get it refilled with R-22. However, it’s important to start thinking about replacing your older HVAC system with a new system that uses a legal refrigerant. You may even find that as the cost of your HVAC repairs increases, it’s more economically viable to put that money toward the down payment for a new system. 

How to Give Yourself More Time 

If you aren’t prepared to replace your existing system, it’s extremely important that you keep your current system well maintained. This is because getting one or two inspections per year can catch coolant leaks early before they result in the need for several pounds of R-22 refrigerant. It will also help extend the useful life of your current HVAC system until you have decided on a replacement. 

HVAC Replacements and Upgrades with Althoff 

Here at Althoff, we are sympathetic to your plight when it comes to determining whether or not to repair your existing HVAC system or replace it with a new system that does not use R-22. To help you in your quest to find a new, energy-efficient HVAC system, we can examine your current system, determine your heating and cooling needs and recommend several different HVAC units. The first unit we typically recommend is the least expensive to install but not as energy-efficient as other types of systems. The second system we typically recommend offers mid-range installation costs and mid-range energy-efficiency. The third system is typically the most energy-efficient and will save you the most on your monthly heating and cooling bills, but it is often the most expensive to install. Getting estimates now can help ensure you have enough time to choose the right system for your budget and estimated monthly heating and cooling costs as well as the overall cost of ownership of your new system. 

While you are reviewing your new HVAC options, our technicians can perform all the needed preventative maintenance on your existing system. This includes checking for refrigerant leaks and proper operation of the system in order to reduce the wear and tear and reduce your risk of experiencing large leaks that could result in the need for more R-22. 

To learn more about getting a new HVAC system for your commercial building or having your existing system inspected, give us a call at 800-225-2443.

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