Viewer Michael B. emailed the VERIFY team a compelling question:

“I'm being told that home air conditioning freon will no longer be sold after the current supply runs out in the USA. This will force homeowners to install all new furnaces and condensers. Is this really true?”

THE QUESTION:

Is what Michael heard correct? Is the US phasing out Freon, forcing people to buy new systems in the near future?

THE ANSWER:

The short answer is yes. Freon is the common name for HCFC-22 and R-22. Those chemicals are the most popular refrigerants that have been used in AC units, and more, over the past few several decades. 

In 2010, the EPA banned any new systems that used HCFC-22 and starting January 1, 2020, they will ban the manufacturing and import of the chemical itself.

There’s no definitive timeline for when HCFC-22 will no longer be available, but as supplies start to dwindle, it’s likely that the price will increase.

Put simply, at some point in the future anyone with an AC unit that uses HCFC-22 will have to get a new system or pay to have their system retrofitted to use a new refrigerant.

WHAT WE FOUND:

The Environmental Protection Agency put the details of all this in an F.A.Q. on its website.

The agency explains that HCFC-22 was found to be particularly damaging to the environment with links to ozone depletion. As a result, the agency banned new systems that used it from being built or installed after 2010.

As the site details, the January 2020 deadline has to do with the chemical itself:

“you can no longer purchase a central air-conditioning unit that uses HCFC-22. However, you can continue to service your existing HCFC-22 system. You can also purchase a “self-contained” system (typically, a window unit) if is second-hand and/or was produced prior to 2010. Keep in mind that supplies of HCFC-22 are expected to become more limited in the years ahead as this refrigerant is phased out of production.”

To check what kind of system you have, look for a sticker on the side. If it says “HCFC-22 or R-22” your system uses the older coolant that the EPA is phasing out. 

The EPA has a list of multiple alternative refrigerants including R-401A that are still approved for use and readily available. If your unit already uses one of these chemicals, your system likely doesn’t need any changes.

It’s also possible in some cases to retrofit your current unit to run one of these approved coolants. Depending on the chemical and your unit, that can be a fairly simple or incredibly difficult process. Some manufacturers also say their warranties prohibit the swapping of equipment in their machines. If you’re curious if your unit needs to be replaced or can be retrofitted, contact a local HVAC expert to take a look at your system.