EPA Announces New Regulations on Your HVAC

Mike Nelson
Mike Nelson

Now Your Question is Repair or Replace?

Staying with our new EPA rules topics this week, we will now look at a new movement to save our ozone.  This year the EPA has begun phasing out the production of R-22 and has banned the production of HVAC equipment that uses R-22 in compliance with Title VI of the Clean Air Act.  The most common refrigerant that the new systems will use is R-410A.  The EPA defines R-410A as an HFC refrigerant blend with common trade names such as GENETRON AZ-20®, SUVA 410A®, Forane® 410A, and Puron®.

R-22 will be manufactured on a limited basis after this year and will no longer be manufactured after 2020.  As it is difficult to predict how long supplies will last, the EPA is encouraging contractors to recycle and rescue as much R-22 to be used to continue to service units that use the refrigerant.

One of the more common questions is can you just replace R-22 with R-410A in my current system and the answer is no.  R-410A requires more pressure to cool therefore requiring a new compressor and piping.  Both the outside and inside unit must be replaced and current piping (if it is the correct size) would need to be flushed with a special chemical.

The use of R-410A, as opposed to R-22, does not affect the HVAC unit’s energy efficiency.  The energy efficiency is determined by a system’s SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio).  As of 2006, the minimum SEER rating allowed to be manufactured in the U.S. is a 13 which is 30% more efficient than a 10 rating.  To receive the ENERGY STAR, a system must have a minimum 14 SEER rating.  Currently, you can find a residential split-system with a SEER rating of 20 or more, but at a substantial cost over the standard SEER 13 units.

A notable point to make regarding the use of systems with R-22 is that as the manufacturing of the product is reduced, the supply will become harder to find.  The price of R-22 will then surely rise.  While the continued use of existing appliances with R-22 is not banned nor is the EPA mandating all R-22 equipment be converted, that is a factor that a homeowner should take into consideration when faced with repairing or replacing their system.  Some other factors to take into consideration along with cost is energy efficiency, reliability, and performance.  The life span of the outside condensing unit is usually around 15 years and the furnace around 20 years.

If your current system is around 10 years old it may be a good idea to look into replacing your system this year for a couple of reasons.  One, replacing your current system with a new system that has a higher SEER rating will usually see a return on investment in about 5 years.  Two, the tax credit (capped at $1500) for switching to a more energy-efficient system ends this year.

Here is a link that may help answer some of your questions:

http://www.epa.gov/Ozone/title6/downloads/homeownerbrochure.pdf

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