How Soon Should I Replace My Air Conditioner: r410a Phase Out

January 30, 2024
workers replacing a R410A refrigerant tank

There are a lot of questions surrounding the EPA’s restriction on equipment produced with r410a refrigerant and the refrigerants’ phase-out. These questions are leading to uncertainty for homeowners with borderline HVAC systems over whether they should replace their equipment now or wait for the new refrigerant to be produced.

Why are they changing refrigerants?

Let’s start with why the change is being mandated. R22 was the standard for decades, but it uses chemicals called hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) that when heated by the sun release chlorine. The chlorine atoms bond with ozone and break down the ozone layer. In 1995 the UN agreed to the Montreal Protocol which created a plan for a long-term phase down of R22 and replace it with r410a which doesn’t have HCFCs. Further research has discovered that r410a, which has HFCs, has high Global Warming Potential (GWP). In 2016 this agreement was amended with the UN Montreal Protocol Kigali Amendment, which sets standards, but not the particular refrigerant to replace r410a. It lined out a timeline to change the industry standard to a non-HFC refrigerant by January 1st, 2025. The American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM) of 2020, which was signed by President Trump, cemented r410a’s fate by mandating the EPA to reduce the production of HFCs by 85% over the next 15 years. It has also established a lowering of the GWP standard in 2034, and thus the necessity of another replacement refrigerant. Should one wait for equipment with the new refrigerant, but that has an expiration date, or buy equipment with a more known quantity, but with a refrigerant that is actively being phased out?

The Argument for Replacing with r410a

The primary argument for replacing equipment that uses r410a now is the knowledge and understanding of r410a and how it reacts in a system. R410a was first introduced in 1991 and was put into large-scale production in 1995. It then became readily available in 2005 and became the industry standard on January 1st, 2013. This meant that by the time it became the primary refrigerant on the market, equipment had been produced with it for 18 years.

R454b was first introduced in 2018. While it has been around for 5 years, it wasn’t selected as the replacement for most manufacturers until 2022. As of January of 2024, no major manufacturer has released components with the replacement refrigerant, and it will become the industry standard in 11 months. This leaves contractors and homeowners alike in their uncertainty.

Our perspective is to get into equipment that is a known and reliable product. One should consider that this changeover seems rushed to the industry. With contractors not having access to equipment to learn and experiment on, short- and long-term knowledge of these systems will be limited. Training is available, but it’s limited. Every piece of equipment that will be available on January 1, 2025, will be first generation equipment. With any mechanical equipment or appliance that is first generation, there is bound to be unforeseen issues. With r410a equipment we had almost 2 decades of experience with the equipment before it was mandated. Its true that experienced technicians will pick up quickly on the subtle differences, but there will be unpredictable situations. We also won’t know for many years how the new refrigerant will affect the long-term health of r454b equipment. The speed with which this change has happened has not allowed manufacturers to properly prepare contractors for this transition.

Is r454b Safe?

There are many myths about r454b out there that we are not propagating. The first is creating a panic about the classification of r454b as a semi flammable refrigerant. This speaks only to its category within the flammability range. It has the same flammability range as olive oil. It is not dangerous and has been proven to be non-explosive. The larger issue for it being semi-flammable is that contractors will be required to install a sensor to detect the presence of the refrigerant. This will cause more cost to the consumer, breakdown, and other mechanical issues. R454b is expected to be a more expensive refrigerant than r410a, even as it is phased down. Another good thing about r454b is that it is expected that newer equipment will require 5-10% less refrigerant than r410a systems and it has more than 50% less GWP. However, r454b equipment is also expected to be 10-25% more expensive than r410a components.

Phase Down of Refrigerants

While there is a current phase down of the amount of r410a allowed to be produced, it currently does not have an expiration date for when it will not be allowed to be produced. Thus, r410a will continue to be available to homeowners who have, or who choose to purchase r410a equipment before the transition.

The phase down schedule is as follows:

10% reduction 2022
Additional 30% reduction 2024
Additional 30% reduction 2029
Additional 10% reduction: 2034
Final 5% Planned Reduction: 2036

Phase out of r454b to begin: 2035

HVAC Refrigerant GWP Supply Phase Down 2020 - 2037

The Decision

There are many factors to consider when replacing your HVAC system. When considering replacing your system before or after the transition, it is important to consider the Pros and Cons of both sides of the argument. Our stance Is that we will be more prepared for the transition than anyone in the Kansas City Metro Area. We also trust the decade’s worth of experience that the industry has developed. Known factors are always more predictable. First generation equipment scares me. To say contractors as a whole are nervous about this transition would be an understatement. There will be issues and a significant learning curve. We will learn and grow and get through it as we always do.

Whatever the industry comes up with, the fantastic technicians and Installers at Summit will always be trained with industry best practices to assure your safety and comfort. The first thing to remember is that the most important day in the life of your heating and cooling equipment is the day its installed. New, more sophisticated equipment demands proper airflow and balancing, and not all installs are created equal. The team at Summit Heating and Cooling are trained and experienced in industry best practices, not just meeting municipalities’ minimum codes. You can trust that the professional technicians at Summit will take the best possible care of you, your home, and your in-home comfort. Remember, if you’re looking for the TOP reach for the SUMMIT.

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