All air conditioners, heat pumps and other types of cooling equipment work by using some type of refrigerant chemical. Refrigerant is what allows air conditioners to capture heat from inside a home and transfer it outside the house, and heat pumps also use refrigerant to bring heat into a home from outside. In the past, most HVAC units used R-22 refrigerant, also known as Freon, but this was phased out in the last decade or so in favor of other, less harmful options. The most common type of refrigerant used in ACs and heat pumps currently is R-410a or Puron, but this is also set to be phased out in the coming years both in the State of California and throughout the entire country.
State and Federal Regulations Regarding R-410a
The US Department of Energy announced in 2020 that they would begin trying to phase out the use of R-410a beginning in 2023, but this has since been pushed back to 2025. As part of the phase-out, new HVAC units will no longer be able to use R-410a refrigerant starting in January 2025. However, the phase-out will take more than 10 years, and R-410a will still be legal to manufacture and import into the US until the end of 2036.
California is the first state in the country to announce its own plans to ban the use of R-410a and some other hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. In March 2022, the California State Senate passed SB-1206 which will ban the sale of certain refrigerants in the coming years. The bill was then signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom in October 2022. As part of the bill, the sale of R-410a will be banned starting on January 1, 2030.
The bill also bans the sale of some other refrigerants like R-404a and R-507 starting in 2025, and there will also be an additional ban on certain other refrigerants that takes effect in 2033. However, these bans will have less of an effect on homeowners as all of these other refrigerants are far less common than R-410a.
How Will the R-410a Ban Affect Homeowners?
One important thing to note is that the new law will only ban the sale and not the use of R-410a. This means that homeowners who have an air conditioner or heat pump that uses this type of refrigerant can continue using the unit and won’t be forced to replace it once the ban comes into effect. This is good news since R-410a is used in the vast majority of residential air conditioners and cooling equipment.
The main issue with the ban is that it will make it much more expensive to service and repair most ACs and heat pumps. If one of these units has a leak and needs to be recharged with additional refrigerant, a licensed HVAC contractor will still be able to perform the work after the ban goes into effect. However, any R-410a they use must be reclaimed from another system, which means that there will be a very limited supply and the price will likely increase dramatically. At some point, the supply of reclaimed refrigerant will decrease to the point where the only option will be to replace any units that use R-410a.
This exact same thing happened when the Environmental Protection Agency banned the manufacture and import of R-22 or Freon at the start of 2020. Units manufactured before 2010 that use Freon can still be recharged. However, there is now an extremely limited supply of reclaimed Freon available, which has increased the cost so much that you’re often better to simply replace the unit instead. In many cases, HVAC contractors can’t even get Freon so replacement is the only possible option.
The fact that the ban on R-410a will have such wide-reaching effects and greatly increase the cost for Californians is why so many people originally lobbied against the bill. By all estimates, there are at least 6 million HVAC units in California that will be affected by the new legislation. Once the ban takes effect, an issue that would normally only have cost a few hundred dollars to repair could now force homeowners to spend thousands of dollars on a replacement unit if there isn’t any reclaimed R-410a available.
For this reason, it is important to pay close attention if you need to replace your air conditioner or heat pump in the next few years. When you do need to install a new unit, you’ll want to make sure that whatever type of refrigerant it uses isn’t affected by the ban. This way you can ensure that your new unit can easily be repaired or recharged as needed so that you won’t have to spend thousands on replacing a unit that still has plenty of life left.
Why R-410a Is Being Phased Out?
The reason that R-410a and other HFC refrigerants are being phased out is due to the negative impact they have on the environment. Freon and all other CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) are now banned in almost every country in the world as part of the Montreal Protocol, which went into effect in 2019. The reason that CFCs were banned is that they were the main factors that contributed to the depletion of the ozone layer.
This issue was why the HVAC industry switched from CFCs to HFCs like R-410a, as HFCs don’t have any ozone-depleting properties. However, all HFCs are still extremely powerful greenhouse gases, which means that they trap huge amounts of heat in the atmosphere and directly contribute to global temperature increases. The ultimate goal is to also completely move away from HFCs as well, but this will likely take decades. As such, only the HFCs that contribute the most to global warming are currently being phased out.
The environmental impact of all HFCs and CFCs is measured in terms of their Global Warming Potential or GWP. The higher the GWP is, the more heat the refrigerant traps and the worse it is for the environment. Carbon dioxide is used as the base when measuring the environmental impact of various gases, and it has a GWP of 1. R-410a has a GWP of 1,890, which means that it is nearly 2,000 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. When you consider this, you can easily see why R-410a and other refrigerants are being banned since they are such major contributors to global warming and climate change.
Expert HVAC Services
If you’re looking to replace your AC or heat pump, Oak Island Heating and Air Conditioning is always ready to help. We carry an extensive selection of HVAC units, and we can make sure that you end up with a new unit that won’t be affected by the new refrigerant bans. We also specialize in professional air conditioning repairs and maintenance, and our team of certified technicians can handle all of your heating and indoor air quality needs as well. For more information or to schedule any HVAC installation, maintenance or repair service in the San Marcos area, give us a call today.