Good stuff. It’s great for transferring heat through evaporation and condensation in heat pump systems. Although it is less harmful to the ozone layer than R-12, it still isn’t safe enough for continued use according to the EPA. The Montreal Protocol has completely banned R-12 (AKA CFC-12, HCFC-12, R-12, Freon-12), and manufacturers have replaced it with safer substances like propane or butane when used in propellants. But R-22 is used mainly as a refrigerant, which requires a more gradual approach.

Fortunately, there is a difference in the amounts of CFC’s leaking into the atmosphere when comparing their roles as propellants or refrigerants. As propellants, all the CFC’s in the system (spray can) end up in the air eventually. As refrigerants, the intention is just the opposite, to retain refrigerant within a closed loop.

Another difference between use as propellants or refrigerants is the type of system they occupy. Replacing CFC propellants with less harmful non-substituted alkanes like propane and butane doesn’t require any action or choice from a consumer. Manufacturers retool their assembly lines, reformulate their compositions and place the same cans on the same store shelves. However, since refrigerants are used in costly heat pumps, the consumer is directly burdened with replacement expenses.

So what does a homeowner do if they’re running an air conditioner with R-22? A switch from R-22 to R-134a requires for an entirely new system, including both the air handler / evaporator and condenser. How much green is someone able or willing to give up for environmental reasons? Fortunately, the Montreal Protocol recognizes this obstacle and plans a gradual phase-out:

  • January 1, 2004: EPA sets consumption and production caps for R-22.
  • January 1, 2010: production of R-22 for use in new equipment will be banned, but still allowed for servicing existing equipment.
  • January 1, 2020: all production of R-22 for use in new equipment will be banned, limiting availability to coolant recovered from existing systems.
In other words, anyone who already runs a heat pump with R-22 will have until 2020 before R-22 refills are unavailable. Until then, manufacturers will still be able to sell R-22, except in conjunction with new systems. After 2020, R-22 will only be available by recycling or recovering it from existing systems.

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