The Latest on EPA Regulations Before Replacing an Air Conditioner
The latest EPA regulations affect home and business owners’ decisions on the timing for replacing an air conditioner or heat pump these days. Whether you realize it or not, the U.S. government is working to honor global climate agreements (i.e., the Kigali Amendment) by reducing the industry’s reliance on and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
What Refrigerants Do Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps Use?
Certain hydrofluorocarbons are used as a refrigerant in air conditioners and heat pumps. You may have heard of name brands like Puron™ though there are other trademarked names for this refrigerant. It’s also known as R-410a, and it is currently being phased out and replaced with refrigerants that have a lower Global Warming Potential (GWP).
Many Houston-area homeowners may be familiar with Freon™ (R-22), and we have heard customers sometimes use the name when referring to any refrigerant because Freon™ was around for so long. Freon™ is a chlorofluorocarbon-based refrigerant that has been phased out of use in heating and cooling systems because of its past impact on the ozone layer. This means you won’t find R-22 in any new air conditioners these days.
Production of HVAC units using R-22 stopped in 2010. The EPA previously allowed drop-ins or refrigerant substitutes, but refrigerant substitutes will not be allowed during the current refrigerant phasedown. The new low-GWP refrigerants are not interchangeable.
What Regulations Are Changing Heating and Cooling Equipment for Homeowners?
The American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 (AIM Act) has been the primary mechanism for
- phasing down refrigerants deemed more harmful to the environment,
- increasing the efficiency of air conditioning and heating equipment, and
- encouraging technological innovation so fewer HFCs will be needed in the future.
It is important to note that these regulations affect how HFCs are used in appliances like air conditioners and heat pumps and many other kinds of uses and appliances (i.e. fire protection, commercial and industrial refrigeration, etc.). The appliances we are talking about in this article are related specifically to heating and cooling systems. The weather in the Houston, Texas area is much too warm and humid for much of the year, which is why most residents rely on their air conditioner and heat pump to keep the temperature comfortable indoors all year.
What Should Houstonians Know Before They Replace an Air Conditioner or Heat Pump?
On December 20, 2023, the EPA finalized and amended a rule that will allow one additional year (January 1, 2026) for the installation of new residential air conditioner and heat pump components manufactured or imported prior to January 1, 2025.
This amendment means that manufacturers, distributors, home builders, and HVAC contractors have more time to sell through existing HVAC inventory with older refrigerant. This primarily affects homebuilders who purchase large quantities of equipment for large neighborhoods. Katy and Fort Bend County has been witnessing a literal building bonanza with subdivisions going up like Austin Point, Vanbrooke, Riverstone, Candela, Jordan Ranch, and many more.
How We’ll be Advising Customers Who Need to Replace Their Air Conditioner
In light of these regulations, Terry’s A/C & Heating is keeping a close eye on how this will impact our Fort Bend County and Far West Houston customers, so we can advise them of the options they have when looking for a new air conditioner or heat pump system. We have choices we can recommend based on where the equipment will fit, how much home or business you need to acclimatize, and how efficient you’d like your air conditioning or heat pump system to be.
Here’s what we recommend:
1. Ask for an air conditioning system using the newest refrigerants, such as R-454B and R-32 as soon as they become available.
Why? According to Rheem, “Although R-410A, R-134a and other higher GWP HFC refrigerants will still be available for service, prices could be affected as availability decreases throughout the phase down.” We already know that refrigerants currently in use are phasing out, which is why we are going to recommend air conditioning systems with the new refrigerant as soon as they are available. These AC systems are going to be the ones with replacement parts and components that are more readily available. As of this writing, manufacturers are telling us that they could be available as soon as the second or third quarter of 2024.
2. Choose an air conditioning system that meets the new energy efficiency guidelines.
Why? An efficient heating and cooling system will save you money over time and keep you and your family comfortable no matter what the Houston weather forecasters are predicting. All new Ruud® Endeavor™ line of gas furnaces, air handlers, split and packaged air conditioners, split and packaged heat pumps, and packaged gas electric units have been engineered to meet and exceed federal requirements for efficiency.
3. Be careful of anyone not offering a “Matched SEER2 System.”
New federal regulations require that heating and cooling systems be matched for residential and commercial systems. This means that the indoor and outdoor units have been tested to ensure they operate optimally together. While we might have been able to swap out different components for your air conditioner to save money in the past, that will no longer be possible. Penalties for manufacturers and HVAC contractors are possible for those violating the rules.
4. Sign up for preventative maintenance for your air conditioner or heat pump.
Preventative maintenance for your hard-working heating and cooling system is a must if you want to avoid surprise breakdowns. We offer a Peace of Mind Protection Plan for our Far West Houston and Fort Bend County customers, which means we come out to your home or business twice a year to inspect and service your air conditioner in the spring and heater in the fall. No matter which HVAC company you use, most will offer maintenance, a tune-up, heater check, or A/C check. While maintenance may have many names, it is an investment in your long-term comfort.
Smart Advice When Replacing an Air Conditioner
As a Ruud ProPartner™, we keep our eye on regulatory developments that can affect the home and business owners we serve. Call or text us at 281-495-7830 to set up an appointment and learn more about the personalized heating and cooling services we offer in the Fort Bend, Fulshear, Richmond, Katy, and Memorial areas. See our latest reviews, and learn why neighbors and friends choose our family-owned, veteran-founded HVAC business, which got its start in Southwest Houston in 1982.