R-22 (Chlorodifluoromethane), also known as R22 Freon or HCFC-22 Freon, was a common refrigerant for HVAC systems. It is now a banned refrigerant that is illegal to import or manufacture. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) followed the tiered timeline laid out by the Montreal Protocol to phase out the importation and production of ozone-depleting substances. But R-22 is not illegal to use. In fact, it is still used in many HVAC systems built pre-2010.
Why Was R-22 Banned?
R-22 contains the element chlorine (Cl), which depletes the Earth’s ozone (O3) layer. The ozone layer is a part of the Earth’s stratosphere and absorbs most of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation. R-22 circulates in high-pressure HVAC systems. So whenever there is a leak, the refrigerant is released into the atmosphere. When R-22 reaches the ozone layer each molecule of chlorine creates a chemical reaction with more than one thousand ozone molecules and creates a new molecule. This new molecule is heavier than ozone and sinks back down to the Earth’s surface. So each chlorine element of R-22 can deplete 1,000+ ozone molecules, reducing the ozone layer. This is bad for people who prefer not getting skin cancer.
The Path to a Banned Refrigerant
The phase-out of R-22 began on January 1 2010. There were three steps in the phase-out:
- In 2010, EPA regulations banned the manufacture of new equipment designed to use R-22. This was followed by an initial reduction in R-22 production and importation.
- Each successive year after 2010 saw a further reduction in the production and importation of R-22.
- In 2020, regulations banned all production or importation of R-22.
On January 1, 2020, the complete ban on producing or importing R-22 came into effect. The ban also applied to HCFC-142b, but this refrigerant has no tie to HVAC.
The price of R-22 has significantly increased and been variable since the initial supply reduction in 2010. As the supply has decreased, the price has increased.
With the 2020 production and importation ban, it is now illegal to buy R-22. So a simple refrigerant leak in an R-22 HVAC system will force you into:
- A repair which could include a drop-in refrigerant replacement, or
- An entire system replacement
Dealing With a Banned Refrigerant
Real estate owners are legally allowed to use refrigerant—including R-22—from any HVAC system they own on any other HVAC system they own. Property teams are re-using refrigerant two ways: recycling or reclaiming it.
Recycling A Banned Refrigerant
To recycle a refrigerant you first remove the refrigerant from the system containing it. Then you send it through equipment that ‘cleans’ it. Cleaning refrigerant requires removing the moisture and particles that make it toxic. Once it’s recycled, you can return the refrigerant to its original container. Or you can store it in a different container for use in a separate system.
Reclaiming a Banned Refrigerant
This goes a step beyond simply recycling refrigerant. Reclaiming removes all impurities, returning the refrigerant to its purest state. Refrigerant reclamation is done according to the requirements of the AHRI-700 standard. This standard is for refrigerants used in new and existing refrigeration and air-conditioning products. Reclaiming refrigerant uses more technical equipment, which makes it more expensive than recycling refrigerant.
Some property teams have been dealing with the ban on sales of R-22 by recovering R-22 refrigerant from HVAC replacements. This allows you to reuse the banned refrigerant on systems in need of additional R-22 refrigerant. Contractors recover the R-22 into a recovery tank and store it for later use.
Property teams have also been using drop-in R-22 replacements. These include:
Unsure if you have any HVAC units that use R-22? Now would be a good time to ensure you have an accurate inventory of your HVAC equipment. Digitizing your inventory ensures you don’t face potentially expensive surprises, and there are a variety of CRE software solutions that can do this, such as Ravti, by Building Engines.
Recycling, reclaiming, reusing R-22, and using drop-in replacements for R-22 merely delay the inevitable however. It’s best practice to replace HVAC systems every 10-15 years. It is now 12 years since the ban on R-22 began to first take effect. If you know you have systems dependent on R-22, it’s time to consider replacing them.
Are You Getting the Most Out of Your HVAC?
To ensure tenant comfort while also minimizing costs, it’s vital to have a preventive maintenance plan in place for every HVAC system. But staying on top of HVAC is a non-trivial task. That’s why Building Engines created The Ultimate HVAC Management Kit for Commercial Teams. This free kit includes everything you need to ensure that your HVAC functions so well it’s a selling point for your building.