The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under the authority of the Clean Air Act, set certain restrictions on classes of chemicals (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) that have been found to damage the ozone layer or contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
EPA began issuing regulations in 1992 to direct manufacturers and importers of equipment that contains refrigerants. Owners of properties that have equipment that uses older refrigerants do not have to replace their equipment.
Beginning in January 2010, the refrigerant R-22 may only be produced or imported to service existing equipment; it may not be used in new equipment. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system manufacturers may not produce new air conditioners or heat pumps containing R-22. Contractors are able to continue to service equipment with existing supplies of R-22, including R-22 that has been recycled from equipment that is no longer in service.
Next-generation refrigerant has been available for several years in the form of R410a, a refrigerant that does not contribute to depletion of the ozone layer. Much of the inventory of HVACs that were produced to meet the upgraded Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) standards (beginning in 2006 when federal law required a shift from SEER 10 minimum to the more efficient SEER 13 standard) contain the next generation refrigerant R-410A (see NMHC/NAA White paper Impact of the 2006 Federal Air Conditioner Efficiency Regulations of Apartment Firms).
Additional legislative and regulatory information is available from EPA at www.epa.gov/ozone/title6/phaseout/classtwo.html. Information on “acceptable substitutes” for refrigerants in household and light commercial air conditioning can be found at www.epa.gov/ozone/snap/refrigerants/lists/homeac.html.
The following information is excerpted from EPA’s publication, What You Should Know about Refrigerants When Purchasing or Repairing a Residential A/C System or Heat Pump.
What Does the R-22 (HCFC-22) Phase-out Mean for Consumers?
Availability of R-22
The Clean Air Act does not allow any refrigerant to be vented into the atmosphere during installation, service, or retirement of equipment. Therefore, R-22 (also known as HCFC-22) must be recovered and recycled (for reuse in the same system), reclaimed (reprocessed to the same purity standard as new R-22), or destroyed. After 2020, the servicing of R-22-based systems will rely solely on recycled or reclaimed refrigerants. It is expected that reclamation and recycling will ensure that existing supplies of R-22 will last longer and be available to service a greater number of systems. As noted above, chemical manufacturers will no longer be able to produce, and companies will no longer be able to import, R-22 for use in new A/C equipment after 2010, but they can continue production and import of R-22 until 2020 for use in servicing existing equipment. Given this schedule, which was established in 1993, the transition away from R-22 to the use of ozone-friendly refrigerants should be smooth. For the next 10 years or more, R-22 should continue to be available for all systems that require R-22 for servicing.
Update: EPA Sets R-22 Refrigerant Supply Levels for 2013-2014 (April 2012)
Alternatives to R-22 in Residential Air Conditioning
As R-22 is gradually phased out, non-ozone-depleting alternative refrigerants are being introduced. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA reviews alternatives to ozone-depleting substances to evaluate their effects on human health and the environment. EPA has reviewed several alternatives to R-22 for household and light commercial air conditioning and has compiled a list of substitutes that EPA has determined are acceptable. One of these substitutes is R-410A, a blend of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that does not contribute to depletion of the ozone layer, but, like R-22, contributes to global warming. R-410A is manufactured and sold under various trade names, including Genetron AZ-20®, SUVA 410A®, Forane® 410A, and Puron®. An additional refrigerant on the list of acceptable substitutes for R-22 in residential air conditioners and other products is R-407C. Residential air conditioners and heat pumps using R-407C are not available in the U.S., but are commonly found in Europe. EPA will continue to review new non-ozone-depleting refrigerants as they are developed.
Servicing Existing Units
Existing units using R-22 can continue to be serviced with R-22. There is no EPA requirement to change or convert R-22 units for use with a non-ozone-depleting substitute refrigerant. Such changes, called "retrofits," are allowed if the alternative has been found acceptable for that type of use. R-407C is allowed for retrofits but R-410A is not allowed in retrofits due to its higher working pressures. In addition, the new substitute refrigerants would not work well without making some changes to system components.
As a result, service technicians who repair leaks to the system will most often continue to charge R-22 into the system as part of that repair.
Installing New Units
The transition away from ozone-depleting R-22 to systems that rely on replacement refrigerants like R-410A has required redesign of heat pump and air conditioning systems. New systems incorporate compressors and other components specifically designed for use with specific replacement refrigerants. For instance, if a new outdoor unit (typically called a "condensing unit," containing the condenser and compressor) is installed, it is likely that a new indoor unit (typically called an "evaporator") will also be required. With these significant product and production process changes, testing and training must also change. Consumers should be aware that dealers of systems that use substitute refrigerants should be schooled in installation and service techniques required for use of that substitute refrigerant.
Vice President of Energy and Environmental Policy