Most air conditioners that are older than 10 years of age use R22 refrigerant. R22 was introduced in the 1950’s and became the predominant refrigerant used in residential air conditioners and heat pumps.
In 1989, the United States was a signatory to the Montreal Protocol that requires a 90% phase-out of consumption by 1-Jan-2015. That is just over one year away. Most new equipment manufactured in the past decade uses R410a refrigerant which is much less expensive and more widely available than R22. So what are your options?
- You can install a new system that uses R410a
- Install a substitute refrigerant
- Repair your system so that is doesn’t leak refrigerant
I will go over some effects of each option listed above.
Option (1) has the highest initial cost. If you have an old inefficient system with leaks located in the outdoor unit and/or your electrical utility bills are higher than they should be, this may be your best long term solution. Sometimes you don’t want to spend this much right now. So lets look at Option (2).
Option (2) is an option available for a medium term of 1 to 3 years. We have refrigerants that are not R22 or R410a but are compatible with your extant outdoor unit at a lower cost and higher availability that R22. Substitute refrigerants do have a few drawbacks. These refrigerants decrease the capacity and efficiency of your existing system by 5% to 7%. Also, they require the replacement of the fixed orifice in your indoor unit with a larger bore device. This is done by trial and error at the time of refrigerant conversion. You may not know what I talking about here by your air conditioning technician does. If your existing indoor unit uses an expansion valve instead of a fixed orifice, the valve must be replaced with a valve having a 20% larger capacity than the current valve. So the initial conversion is more expensive than subsequent recharges. Option (2) has seen very limited use by Swinson Air Conditioning; it is not the best long term solution for most of our customers.
Option (3), repairing the leaks, comprises a major part of the time spent by us in the field. We have very few regular maintenance customers that have refrigerant added every year. Adding refrigerant instead of repairing the leaks is a terrible plan for low cost air conditioner operation. When we add refrigerant to your system, the next thing we do is ask if you would like us to locate the leak. Most people do want the leak located and most of the leaks are located at the indoor
copper coil, some leaks are on the access ports where we connect the gauges, some on rusted out driers or accumulators in the outdoor equipment. Where ever the leak is located, if it is a repairable leak, you want that leak repaired regardless of the refrigerant availability situation. Operating a leaking system is false economy. See this previous post for more information on Option (3).
So that sums up the refrigerant phase-out situation. Each of these options can give you a future of reliable air conditioning operation with lowest possible cost.