Most air conditioners use one of two types of refrigerant: R-22 or R-410A. Here at Structure Tech, we started paying close attention to this detail during our home inspections about three years ago, because units that use R-22 have become ridiculously expensive to service. The price of this refrigerant began to skyrocket many years ago, and it hasn't slowed down.
Note: We made it standard policy to start reporting on the type of refrigerant used with air conditioners back in 2017. While this isn't something that's required by home inspection standards of practice, we felt that this was an important detail to include in our reports. When we come across air conditioners using R-22, we include a comment in our reports explaining why this matters to our clients.
Why is the price of R-22 increasing?
In short, R-22 has become scarce because the US has completely phased out the production, import, and use of this refrigerant. This was done to help control the damaging effects on our ozone layer.
Head over to the EPA website for more details on the refrigerant phase-out.
Why should you care?
If your air conditioner uses R-22 refrigerant and the refrigerant leaks, it will be expensive to recharge the system. Many years ago, I had said that it'll become cost-prohibitive to service older air conditioners still running on R-22. Today, I'd say we're there. The cost of R-22 is so high that it's probably no longer worthwhile to recharge systems with low refrigerant levels.
For the record, however, it's not illegal to recharge systems that are low on R-22. This can still be legally done, it's just expensive.
How can you tell the difference?
To know which type of refrigerant your air conditioner uses, take a look at the label on the compressor unit outside. It’ll clearly tell you which type of refrigerant the unit uses. The newer type is R-410A, and the older type that I’ve been talking about is R-22, also identified as HCFC-22. These aren't the only two that exist, but they're all that I've ever encountered.
Up until 2015, air conditioners could still be manufactured to use R-22 refrigerant, and many were.
What to do?
If you have an air conditioner that uses R-22, keep your fingers crossed. Many years ago, I had made the recommendation to get your air conditioner serviced now if it uses R-22, to get it serviced while it's still affordable. Today, I'd say we're past that. If you have an air conditioner technician tell you that your system uses an old refrigerant that is cost-prohibitive to service, don't worry. They're not out to scam you. This is the truth.
For the record, adding R-410A to a system designed for R-22 is bad news. More on that topic here: http://www.supplyht.com/articles/97376-can-you-mix-r22-with-r410a. Systems using R-22 can technically be completely emptied out and recharged with a different type of refrigerant, but there's a bunch of additional work that has to be done at the same time, which typically means that this isn't worth the money. Your best option is usually going to be a complete replacement of systems running on R-22.