Federal EPA regulations limiting the production of R-22 refrigerant are increasing air conditioning repair and maintenance costs for home and business owners across the U.S. at a staggering rate.
June 12, 2012 (FPRC) -- Prices have begun to steadily rise for a common refrigerant used in many air conditioning systems due to federal regulations designed to encourage the use of a newer, greener alternative.
For the past forty years, R-22 has been the aerosol propellant of choice in residential air and heating systems. According to a recent report, however, its use in home systems is expected to rapidly fall over the next few years, bottoming out around ten percent of its historic use nationwide. As production and consumption costs for Freon increase, ac repair and maintenance costs for older residential systems that were designed to specifically use R-22 have increased more than 300 percent in 2012, alone.
In an effort to meet federal goals on overall carbon emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency tracks the allowable allocations of R-22 usage, and publishes the allocations of R-22 use on a yearly basis. This past January, however, the EPA did not release their allocations for allowable R-22 usage, making the manufacture or importation of additional R-22 illegal.
The complete in production has resulted in a spike in the price of R-22, causing homeowners to recoil in horror when their ac systems spring a leak or require recharging of the traditional propellant.
When breached for comment, Barry Andrews, president of Air National of Houston, LLC stated, "As a home air conditioning repair and service provider, I feel it is my responsibility to influence owners of older, leaking systems to consider replacing their units with newer units."
"Considering the rapid spike in prices, there's no way of predicting what prices are going to be down the road", Andrews added.
The rush to new installations isn't heralded by all, however, and some industry leaders are adopting a wait-and-see attitude towards the situation.
"We still don't know for sure what the EPA is planning", stated John Erwin, president of The National HVAC Convention. "There's every possibility that new allocations will be published and production will resume. We just don't know."
Limitations on R-22 production began as a result of The Montreal Protocol, an international treaty signed in 1987 that established requirements to encourage the worldwide phase-out of ozone depleting CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons). One of the provisions of the treaty require that nations enact regulations that would ultimately eliminate the use of R-22 by January 1, 2020.
Manufacturers of R-22 began halting production in 2010, so as to be in compliance with the U.S. EPAs Clean Air Act, which intends to limit the production of pollutants that emit greenhouse gasses as a byproduct. R-22 is one step more serious than that; it is itself classified as a greenhouse gas.
As an alternative, new systems are being designed to run on a more environmentally friendly propellant, R-410A. The newer refrigerant will not work in older systems, and requires a higher system pressure to produce effective propellant effects. In addition to being more eco-friendly, the newer refrigerant also promotes a financial incentive for homeowners because it is deemed more efficient than its obsolete counterpart, with some reports indicating an average of 40% reduction in home energy costs.
Critics of the phase-out plan argue that although R-410A does not contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer, the propellant is still a "blend" of CFCs, and as such, contributes to global warming just like it's older predecessor, R-22.
Another refrigerant on the list of acceptable propellants is R-407C, which at this time is only available to households outside of the U.S., and are commonly found in Europe.
The EPA has stated that it will continue to review newer, non-ozone-depleting air conditioning refrigerants as they are developed.