Tricks of the Trade

Best practices for dealing with R22 refrigerant phaseout

 

It became illegal to produce or import virgin R22 in the U.S. on Jan. 1, 2020; the refrigerant, however, is still readily available, legal to use, and its price has remained fairly stable. HVAC Contractors servicing existing R22 systems should have no trouble finding the refrigerant, as industry experts say that existing stocks of virgin and reclaimed refrigerant should be available for a long time.

Following these best practices will ensure that your company can effectively manage the R22 phaseout:

HVAC repair
  1. Educate your customers.

    For customers who still have R22 systems, it is important that they understand what the phaseout means. This does not mean scaring them into thinking they need to replace their HVAC systems right away; let them know instead that in case they have a leak, the cost may go up to replace the refrigerant in their system.

    Denise Webb, the service manager at a St. Louis, Missouri contracting firm, said about 25% of their customers still have R22 systems and that her company informed their customers of the phaseout in its regular newsletter. In addition, their technicians take the time while on service calls to explain the R22 situation and discuss the pros and cons of replacing a unit.

    “We have to be very careful, as our company does not want to be considered ‘pushy’ — we don’t want the customer to feel that we are pushing them to make a purchase they may not feel is necessary,” she said.

  2. Repair or replace.

    If an R22 system is inefficient, causing discomfort, leaking, and/or requires a major repair, it may be best to talk with customers about replacing it with a new system that uses R-410A. Remember that this can be a costly proposition for homeowners, many of whom may not have purchased a new system in years (or at all) and will likely be surprised at the cost. They should, however, understand that a new system not only uses a more environmentally friendly refrigerant, it will also be more energy efficient, likely offer better comfort, and come with a multi-year warranty to ensure peace of mind.

    About 50% of customers at Greg Fox’s contracting firm in Sacramento, California still have R22 systems, but he said that those who are facing costly repairs will usually opt to replace the system.

    “Most customers who have an expensive repair looming over their heads will replace the system, because they want to invest their money in the future rather than the past,” he said. “However, we also have customers with small leaks in their systems who would prefer to pay a few hundred dollars to get their system up and running for a couple more years.”

    Pro tip: For customers who are not ready to replace their R22 systems, let them know that by purchasing a maintenance agreement, they can ensure their systems continue operating reliably until they are ready to replace them with new equipment.

  3. Consider alternative refrigerants.

    Some contractors – and customers – may not want to continue using R22, and if that is the case, there are numerous HFC-based alternatives that can be used in its place. These include R427A, R421A, R438A and R407C to name a few.

    Jason Ellington, a contractor in Rockledge, Florida, has not offered virgin or reclaimed R22 for several years due to his concerns about the environment, as well as price fluctuations of the refrigerant. Most of his customers use R410A, but when a customer still has an R22 unit, he suggests retrofitting it to what he considers to be a more environmentally friendly refrigerant.

    “After much research, we chose R427A,” he said. “It is our company policy with any leaking R22 system we encounter to convert it to R427A and then properly identify the unit so others will know it has the new refrigerant. It's just one of the ways we act in a climate-friendly manner.”

    It is important to remember that there are no “drop-in” replacements for R22; if retrofitting to an alternative refrigerant, the existing R22 must first be recovered and the system evacuated before the new refrigerant is added. Additionally, not every unit will be able to use every alternative. Before making any changes to a system, check with the equipment and refrigerant manufacturers and follow all retrofit guidelines.

Even though it is no longer legal to produce or import virgin R22 in the U.S., there is no reason for you or your customers to worry. Take the time to educate them about the phaseout; help them decide whether it makes sense to repair or replace their R22 unit; encourage them to purchase a maintenance contract to keep their system running smoothly; and consider alternative refrigerants if a more environmentally friendly solution is desired. If you have any questions about alternative refrigerants or the availability of R22, check with your local Ferguson HVAC.