R-22 is one of many different chemicals used as heat transfer fluid in air conditioning and refrigeration systems. R-22 is the most common refrigerant in use. R-22 is used in most systems that provide comfort cooling in inhabited buildings. It is estimated that in the United States over 80 million units contain R-22.
Legislation passed in the early 1990’s mandated that R-22 would be phased out over time to protect the environment. The HVACR (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration) Industry has been preparing since then for the replacement of this chemical. Much more about the phase-out can be found at the EPA’s website Phaseout of Ozone-Depleting Substances.
It is not illegal to use R-22 in an existing system (you do have to have a EPA technician license to buy R-22) but it is not readily available anymore. A relatively small supply of R-22 is allowed to be manufactured or imported in the US each year until 2020. This supply is tightly controlled by the few chemical manufacturers and importers that the EPA has allowed to distribute the regulated amount. The only other source of R-22 for service and repair comes from the reclamation (recycling) of used R-22 removed from units being replaced.
There are many different blends of chemicals being marketed to replace R-22. Because of the size of the potential market, many companies with little to no background in developing refrigerants have rushed to provide a solution to the marketplace. There is no replacement that will work exactly like R-22 in any unit. On residential or other small units, the best solution in many cases will be to simply replace the entire A/C system. If you are going to consider a replacement chemical, it would be best to consider one the products from the major chemical manufactures such as Arkema, Honeywell, or Chemours. It might cost a little more, but the major companies have invested more resources in developing their chemical replacement.
In mid-size commercial units, the choice to replace the unit may not be as clear. It is best to work with an established mechanical contractor to find the best solution for each individual unit. The large industrial systems often cannot be successfully changed over to the replacement chemicals and these users will be left to compete with each other for the small amount of R-22 left in the marketplace.
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