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R-22 Prices Reaching New Heights: Time to Consider System Retrofit

On January 1, 2020, production and import of ozone-depleting HCFC refrigerants, including the widely-used R-22, ceased in accordance with the Montreal Protocol. Manufacturers stopped making R-22 equipment a decade ago, and most new systems now use HFC refrigerants, usually R-410A. It is still perfectly legal to own and operate an existing R-22 system, but it may only be serviced using reclaimed or stockpiled refrigerant.

MSC has been advising owners of R-22 HVAC equipment to consider either retrofit or replacement for several years now, and those who followed this advice have certainly reaped cost and efficiency benefits. But for those who opted to keep their old equipment running as long as financially practicable, now is a good time to reexamine whether to replace or retrofit due to the ever-increasing cost of R-22 refrigerant. During the mid-to-late 2010s, R-22 prices skyrocketed as the HCFC phase-out progressed, then leveled off when anticipated shortages didn’t materialize as expected. Now, though, prices are once again rising at a fast clip and the cost of servicing existing R-22 equipment has become prohibitively expensive.

The options for building owners still utilizing R-22 equipment remain the same as five or ten years ago: 1) retrofit the system to accept HFC refrigerant, 2) replace the equipment, or 3) stick it out with the existing system. With R-22 prices now at an all-time high and only going higher, option three is, by far, the least advisable. In fact, the cost to convert an R-22 system that’s lost its charge is about the same as the cost of filling it back up with R-22.

When considering whether to retrofit or replace an R-22 system, equipment age and condition should -be major deciding factors. The average lifespan of a well-maintained air handler is 15-20 years, so replacement would likely be the better option for equipment within or beyond that age range. But for newer systems in good condition, most are still within the window in which conversion to an HFC refrigerant can still provide marked monetary value.

MSC can help clients decide whether to replace R-22 equipment or implement a system retrofit, whether proactively after careful cost-benefit analysis or reactively when a service issue arises. For more information, please contact us at (973) 884-5000.


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