Which is easier to say: difluorochloromethane or HCFC-22? Your central air conditioning system, window air conditioners, heat pumps, ductless air conditioners and dehumidifiers all use the chemical HCFC-22 as a refrigerant. The industry shorthand for HCFC-22 is R22, and supplies of it are diminishing. Because R22 is known to damage the ozone layer that protects our planet, governments worldwide have restricted its availability.
R-22, also called Freon® and about two dozen other names, when accidentally released from cooling systems, rises up into the stratosphere where it absorbs ultraviolet (UV) light and breaks apart, releasing individual atoms of the element chlorine. Chlorine attacks and breaks up ozone, which is a molecule of three oxygen atoms. The atomic oxygen can no longer protect earth from UV radiation.
Rising UV light levels lead to disease, breakdown in the food chain, and, ultimately, the disappearance of life on earth. It is in everyone’s interest to protect our thin, fragile atmosphere, including the ozone. Replacing harmful R22 with other refrigerants is a good start.
Recognizing that homeowners, businesses and suppliers all need to plan an orderly transition to new refrigerants, the federal government developed a phaseout schedule for R22:
- 2015—10,000 metric tons (MT) allocated for consumption in the U.S. (about 13,000 metric tons less than allocated in 2014)
- 2016—8,000 MT allocated
- 2017—6,000 MT available
- 2018—4,000 MT available
- 2019—2,000 MT available
- 2020—no production or importing of R-22 in the United States
- 2030—no production or importing of R-22 anywhere in the world
Your best strategy is to plan on replacing your HVAC equipment within the next few years. Still, the HVAC system cooling your home or business can likely be converted to use a safer alternative to R22:
New refrigerants are being formulated all the time; check with your HVAC contractor for updated information. You also are under no obligation to replace your R22 with an alternative. When your current equipment is no longer operable, the new HVAC cooling units will have new, ozone-safe refrigerant.