Be Prepared for Sticker Shock on Your A/C Repairs

The phase out of Freon - R22

The Impact of SEER and R-22 Changes in 2015

January 1, 2015 came and went like another uneventful New Years Day, but not for the heating and cooling industry. January 1st is significant, because it is when major changes in the HVAC industry took effect. The first major effect is on R-22 refrigerant, also known as freon.

R-22 will be halted from production and importation completely in 2020. ACHR News reported on the phase out plan for R-22 in December. January 1, 2015 will begin the year with a decrease in production of R-22 by 57 percent.

R-22 has been in use since the 1950’s and is a major coolant in air conditioners (window units, ductless units and central air conditioners), dehumidifiers and heat pumps. R-22 was halted in 2010 from being installed into new heating and cooling units by manufacturers in order to limit the impact of climate change and ozone depletion.

Although the EPA claims R-22 should be available in inventory for the next 10 years, the price will skyrocket. Already, the price of R-22 has increased and some contractors have even taken advantage of consumers, charging high prices for R-22. Typically R-22 can be expected to cost 3 - 5 times the cost of R-410A, the alternative coolant that doesn’t deplete the ozone (source).

A shortage of R-22 gets even more interesting with the SEER changes that also happened on January 1, 2015.

From SEER 13 to SEER 14

SEER 13 units (a measure of HVAC efficiency) is now officially phased out of the south and southwest regions of the United States. The northern half of the United States can still manufacturer and sell SEER 13 units. See the map for an idea of the coverage.

2015 Minimum HVAC efficiency by region in the United States

SEER 13 systems can still be sold from what is left in inventory. Although the SEER 14 systems are more expensive than SEER 13, it is expected the price of SEER 13 systems to increase, just like R-22.

A spokesperson for Goodman commented, “I think the main concern will be price of refrigerant and availability in the future. As far as the new laws are concerned, I expect manufacturers will make 14 seer replacement units for R-22 applications for a short term but as of right now none are in production that we know of (that can change at any time). With a reduction of actual refrigerant produced it is more cost effective to switch to the new R-410A units in my opinion.”

Dry Shipping Units

Since 2010, HVAC system manufacturers have been prevented from creating new units with R-22. Using a loophole, many of these manufacturers dry shipped the units, allowing contractors to add the R-22 upon installation.

A majority of SEER 13 units require R-22 coolant. Now with the phaseout of SEER 13 units, at the moment there aren’t any SEER 14 options that use R-22 coolant. However, it is expected for manufacturers to dry ship SEER 14 units for use with R-22, just as they did in 2010 with SEER 13 units.

A/C Maintenance and Repairs Become an Issue

The biggest impact with SEER 13 and R-22 shortages are higher costs in AC maintenance and repair. Because production of R-22 is limited, costs to charge existing units that are leaking R-22 refrigerant have gone up and are only expected to rise.

HVAC Installation
These HVAC contractors tend to only install new HVAC units and work with homebuilders. Often, the contractor that installs your unit is completely different from the contractor that makes a repair. Even in 2015, it is possible to install new HVAC units that require R-22. Many HVAC installation contractors won’t adopt R-410A, installing SEER 13 units that have been stockpiled and use R-22, or perhaps SEER 14 units that use R-22 (yet to be manufactured).

SEER 13 units are currently cheaper than the SEER 14 units, although that it is expected to only be in the short term. The contractor who installed your unit, isn’t affected by the cost of repairs to your unit, 10 or 20 years into the future. Therefore, they may be price motivated, and you’ll be stuck with the bill for repairs.

Small HVAC Repairs Become Expensive

A central air conditioning system involves many components: compressors, coils, the outdoor unit, etc. Now, when a component on your SEER 13 unit which uses R-22 coolant stops working, it will require an entire system change. R-22 charged units aren’t compatible with R-410 refrigerant.

This means refrigerant leaks, compressor failures and more, will become costly as inventory of SEER 13 units and parts is no longer being produced, and R-22 coolant has a limited supply. If a leak is severe, it could require up to seven pounds of R-22, which could be as much as $150 per pound.

Common A/C repairs and maintenance with R-22, could be significant enough to justify a new SEER 14 unit which uses R-410A. Your contractor will have fewer options that don’t break the bank.

What You Should Do If You have an HVAC System

Determine the age and the type of coolant your system uses. It may be cost prohibitive for repairs and maintenance on your existing system, especially in the next few years. Talk with your HVAC contractor for a cost comparison of upgrading to a new energy efficient unit.

What You Should Do If You Need a New HVAC System

Get a SEER 14 or higher unit that is energy efficient and uses R-410A, anything but R-22. You can also qualify for a $300 tax credit for adopting an energy efficient system.

Why?

  • R-22 destroys more ozone than R-410A
  • R-22 will only get more expensive
  • R-22 isn’t compatible with SEER 14 units (at the moment)
  • R-22 production ends in 2020. It may become in such shortage, that it will be cheaper to upgrade to a new R-410A system than repair a R-22 unit.

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