The following frequently asked questions will help homeowners make informed decisions when purchasing, servicing, or disposing of home air conditioners or other equipment that could contain ozone-depleting substances ODS.
Why is “Freon” being phased out?
“Freon” is a trademark name that has been used to refer to several different refrigerants, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) such as CFC-12, and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) such as HCFC-22, which is often referred to as “R-22.” Under the U.S. Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, the United States phased out CFCs in the 1990s, and is currently phasing out HCFCs.
These chemicals eventually reach the stratosphere where they deplete the stratospheric ozone layer. The ozone layer helps protect us from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can cause skin cancer and cataracts. Phasing out ozone-depleting substances globally under the Montreal Protocol is expected to avoid more than 280 million cases of skin cancer, approximately 1.6 million skin cancer deaths, and more than 45 million cases of cataracts in the United States among individuals born between 1890 and 2100. Increased UV radiation caused by depletion of the ozone layer also harms plants, crops, marine ecosystems and various materials like plastics and paint. Get more information on the health and environmental effects of ozone layer depletion.
What does this mean for people with air conditioners that use HCFC-22?
People can continue to use air-conditioning (AC) equipment that uses HCFC-22, whether it is a window unit or a central cooling system. EPA does not require homeowners to replace their existing equipment. As of January 1, 2020, no new HCFC-22 will be made or imported into the United States, but used HCFC-22 that is cleaned up to the same specifications as new refrigerant will continue to be available.
The most important thing an equipment owner can do is to maintain their AC unit properly, because appropriate servicing minimizes potential environmental damage and prolongs the life of the system. When selecting a technician, make sure he/she has the required EPA Section 608 certification needed to service equipment containing HCFC-22. Homeowners should also request that service technicians locate and repair leaks instead of “topping off” leaking systems to protect the environment, minimize future service calls and repair costs, and reduce equipment operation costs by improving performance. It is also illegal to intentionally release any refrigerant when maintaining, servicing, repairing or disposing of AC equipment
Will retrofitting my system effect my energy use?
Air conditioning equipment generally runs most efficiently on the type of refrigerant it was designed for, but when the time does come to replace or retrofit your system, there are many non-ozone-depleting alternatives available. There is no EPA requirement to convert existing HCFC-22 units for use with a non-ozone-depleting substitute refrigerant. Such conversions, called “retrofits,” are allowed if the alternative has been found acceptable under EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program for that type of use. There are no “drop in” replacements for HCFC-22. Alternative refrigerants will not work well without making changes to system components. As a result, service technicians who repair leaks to the system will most often continue to charge HCFC-22 into the system as part of that repair. If a homeowner chooses to have their appliance retrofitted to another type of refrigerant it is important to ensure a technician with Section 608 certification recovers any remaining HCFC-22 in the system before adding the non-ozone depleting alternative and explains how the conversion to a different refrigerant might affect the system’s performance and energy use.
How can I find out what kind of refrigerant my home air conditioner contains?
The refrigerant used in your home air conditioner is typically listed on the unit’s nameplate. For central air conditioners, the nameplate is usually on the outdoor condenser. If there is no nameplate, check your owner’s manual or contact the person or company that sold or services your air conditioner. If you know the manufacturer and model number, you could also call the manufacturer or check its website.
Can I still purchase a home air conditioner that contains HCFC-22?
You can no longer purchase a central AC unit that uses HCFC-22. However, you can continue to service your existing HCFC-22 system. You can also purchase a “self-contained” system (typically, a window unit) if it is second-hand and/or was produced prior to 2010.
Will there be enough HCFC-22 available to continue to service my system?
HCFC-22 that is recovered and reclaimed, along with HCFC-22 produced prior to 2020, will help meet the needs of owners of existing HCFC-22 systems well beyond the phaseout date. From 2000-2018, refrigerant reclaimers reported reclaiming more than 140 million pounds of HCFC-22. See a summary of refrigerant reclamation totals for more information.
Are refrigerants available for home air conditioners that do not harm the ozone layer?
Yes, a number of ozone-friendly refrigerants are available and widely used today. The most common alternative in new AC systems is R-410A, which is known by trade names such as GENETRON AZ-20®, SUVA 410A®, Forane® 410A, and Puron®. While R-410A is a blend of two hydrofluorocarbons. Like the ozone depleting refrigerants being replaced, most HFCs are potent greenhouse gases and also must be handled consistent with EPA’s Refrigerant Management Program requirements. EPA maintains a full list of acceptable substitutes for residential and light commercial AC.
Is R-22a or 22a refrigerant the same as HCFC-22?
No. R-22a or 22a refrigerant has been falsely marketed as HCFC-22 or an HCFC-22 replacement, but it is a hydrocarbon refrigerant blend whose primary components include flammable substances such as propane and butane. In some cases, it may also contain small amounts of other hydrocarbons or a pine-scented odorant.
This refrigerant is highly flammable and not an acceptable alternative for your residential AC system. Because R-22a is flammable and an HCFC-22 AC system does not have safety features to address flammability, it can burn or explode if there is enough product concentrated in one space and the refrigerant comes in contact with an ignition source.
“HCFC-22a” has been sold under the names Blue Sky 22a, Coolant Express 22a, DURACOOL-22a, EC-22, Ecofreeze EF-22a, Enviro-safe 22a, ES-22a, Frost 22a, Maxi-Fridge, MX-22a, Oz-Chill 22a, Priority Cool, and RED TEK 22a. Here is an overview of HCFC-22a safety
Can I replace the condensing unit (i.e., outdoor unit) on a home air conditioner that contains HCFC-22?
It depends. EPA regulations allow owners of existing HCFC-22 home air conditioners to replace their condensing unit with a new one if it breaks or is damaged. However, the HCFC-22 condensing units must meet regional efficiency standards when tested in accordance with DOE’s test procedure.
I own a home air conditioner that contains HCFC-22. How can I minimize its impacts on the ozone layer and the climate system?
The most important step you can take is to maintain your unit properly. Major leaks rarely develop in properly installed and regularly maintained units. If your air conditioner leaks, ask your service technicians to locate and repair the leak instead of “topping it off.” Repairing leaks will keep your system operating at its best, while reducing refrigerant emissions and energy use. You can also save money by avoiding additional repairs in the future.
How should I select an appropriate technician?
Work with reputable dealers that employ service technicians who are EPA-certified to handle refrigerants used in air conditioners. Technicians often call this certification “Section 608 certification,” which refers to a portion of the Clean Air Act. When speaking with an AC service company, ask if their technicians are Section 608-certified. You can also ask a service technician to show you his/her certification card. If your air conditioner contains alternative refrigerants, the service technician should be trained in their use. Under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act, EPA prohibits individuals from knowingly venting refrigerants containing ozone-depleting refrigerants (including HCFC-22) as well as their substitutes (such as HFCs, including R-410A), while maintaining, servicing, repairing, or disposing of AC and refrigeration equipment. Report a potential violation here.
What are questions homeowners should be asking their heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) contractor?
If your HVAC equipment is more than 10 years old or not keeping your house comfortable, EPA recommends that you have it evaluated by a professional HVAC contractor. If it is not performing efficiently or needs upgrading, consider replacing it with a system that has earned the ENERGY STAR label to save energy, save money and help protect the environment.
Depending on where you live, replacing your old heating and cooling equipment with equipment that has earned the ENERGY STAR can cut your annual energy bill by more than $160. But before you invest in a new system, make sure that you have addressed the big air leaks in your house and the duct system.
For more information on what homeowners should know about the phaseout view our consumer fact sheet. ENERGY STAR also provides tips and information for HVAC equipment maintenance.
May I purchase my own refrigerant to recharge my appliance?
Section 608 Certification is required to recharge appliances. Refrigerant for stationary appliances is only sold to certified technicians or the companies that employ them.
Can I install an R-410A mini-split window unit?
No. Section 608 Technician Certification is required for activities that could reasonably be expected to violate the integrity of the refrigeration circuit. Adding or removing refrigerant from a mini-split as part of installation, and/or connecting or disconnecting hoses or pre-charged lines requires a Section 608 technician certification. Activities reasonably expected to violate the integrity of the refrigerant circuit include but are not limited to: attaching or detaching hoses and gauges to and from the appliance; adding or removing refrigerant; adding or removing components; and cutting the refrigerant line.
How should I dispose of appliances containing refrigerants?
You have a number of options. If you purchase a new appliance, such as a refrigerator or freezer, the retailer will likely offer to remove the old one. Many governments and private organizations also can arrange for curbside pickup of appliances. Do not tamper with an appliance before it is disposed of, such as cutting refrigerant lines or removing compressors. The Clean Air Act prohibits the knowing release of most types of refrigerant during appliance disposal. Partners in EPA’s RAD program commit to collecting used refrigerated appliances and implementing best practices for the recycling/disposal of these units that go beyond federal laws. RAD Partners recover appliance foam, ensure compliance with laws on the recovery of refrigerant, used oil, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and promote recycling of durable goods and the permanent retirement of old, inefficient appliances to save energy.