By now we’re all familiar with the term, fake news, which has been used to describe everything from factual information that a political figure simply may not like to questionable reporting that plays fast and loose with the truth. I would posit that much of the information being published about the R-22 phaseout in local newspapers falls directly into the fake news category. Indeed, I have been astounded by the sheer number of articles that I’ve seen from around the country that contain exaggerations and misinformation (okay, lies) about the phaseout.
Just to get the facts straight, as of January 1, 2020, it will no longer be legal to produce or import virgin R-22 in the U.S., but that does not mean the refrigerant will be unavailable, unaffordable, or illegal to use. It just means that after that date, contractors who service R-22 systems will have to rely on existing stocks of virgin refrigerant or else use reclaimed refrigerant, both of which should be readily available (and affordable) for a long time, according to industry experts.
Yet to see the media report it, one would think that just owning a system that contains R-22 could land you in a lot of trouble. In fact, a Georgia newspaper states, “If your unit breaks down or runs out of refrigerant after January 1, you can expect to spend a good chunk of change as new R-22 will be illegal to obtain.” While an article published in a Virginia newspaper states, “Once 2020 arrives, nobody is going to be able to get Freon for their AC unit. If you have a Freon-based air conditioning unit, you will have to switch it over by the year 2020. If not, your summers are going to be long and very hot.”
Other articles quote contractors stating that R-22 has already “doubled or tripled” in price and that costs next year are expected to “skyrocket.” While it is likely that prices will increase after the phaseout, no mention is made of the fact that the cost of R-22 has actually been fairly stable this year, or that the use of reclaimed refrigeration will be allowed for the foreseeable future. In addition, there are many R-22 substitutes (e.g., R-421A, R-427A, R-407C) that are readily available and legal to use.
One of my favorite articles cites a contractor from Texas, who was quoted as saying that after “reviewing all the data,” he had come to the conclusion that it is best for customers to replace their R-22 systems now. He added that while it will still be legal to use heating and cooling systems that already have R-22 in them, it will just be too expensive for most customers to have their units serviced and maintained. But if the unit is working properly and not leaking, why would that be the case? It’s a very confusing message for consumers.
Other contractors are seeing this confusion amongst their customers as well. At a recent industry event I attended, commercial contractors participating in a roundtable discussion expressed their concern about the misinformation regarding the phaseout. Most said that the majority of their customers still have systems that utilize R-22 that are working just fine. However, some end users had been told by other contractors that R-22 will be illegal next year, so they need to replace their equipment now. One contractor said he was contacted by a building owner who was in a panic over the phaseout, and it took a long time to convince her that it would still be legal to operate her R-22 equipment after January 1.
The bottom line is that there is no reason for end users to panic over the R-22 phaseout, and contractors shouldn’t be scaring them into buying new equipment. Responsible contractors should obviously take the time to educate their customers about the future of R-22, but unless the existing equipment is leaking or not performing well, the phaseout should not be used to frighten people into making a purchase. As one contractor recently told me, “Customers are well aware that the first three letters of our profession are CON.”