Is R22 legal to use?

I've recently seen heated debates in different HVAC groups about whether it is okay to recharge a residential HVAC system with R22 without locating and repairing the leaks. I've had residential customers call me and complain about other companies telling them they must replace their system because it leaks. They've also stated that it is against the law to recharge their system with R22. We should all consider this topic in a few different ways.  

First and foremost, none of us want to get in trouble. None of us want the EPA knocking at our door, slapping us with hefty fines. I wouldn’t put it past big brother to monitor the amount of R22 residential companies purchase annually. That said, I will take my tin-foil hat off so that we can look at the facts in black and white.  

If you look up the law which is Title 40, Chapter 1, Subchapter C, Part 82, Subpart F. CFR 82.156(i)(5)

“Owners or operators of comfort cooling appliances normally containing more than 50 pounds of refrigerant and not covered by paragraph (i)(1) or (i)(2) of this section must have leaks repaired in accordance with paragraph (i)(9) of this section if the appliance is leaking at a rate such that the loss of refrigerant will exceed 15 percent of the total charge during a 12-month period, except as described in paragraphs (i)(6), (i)(8) and (i)(10) of this section and paragraphs (i)(5)(i), (i)(5)(ii) and (i)(5)(iii) of this section. Repairs must bring the annual leak rate to below 15 percent. “

So as you can see in the ruling above, the EPA will not come after you or your company if the system has less than 50 lbs of refrigerant. And it is not against the law to refill a leaking system.

Here are a few test questions directly from the EPA’s 608 practice exam, which might be easier to understand:

Let’s now look at the topic of morality. I think this can be a bit more sticky because technicians might encounter an infinite number of circumstances. One thing that is common knowledge is that hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) like R22 are ozone-depleting substances. There is a global initiative to reduce the use of HCFCs because of the “hole” found over Antarctica. We should consider that the strict regulations on R22 are at least partly a result of our previous and current actions in handling HCFCs and how we deal with leaking systems. To put it bluntly, we have screwed up as an industry. We have all brought these regulations on ourselves and must deal with them.

As mentioned above, it is not against the law to gas-and-go an old R22 system (under 50 lbs). Is adding 5 lbs of R22 really a big deal? If we all continue to refill repeat offender systems, then we are kind of knowingly venting refrigerant. By doing so, are we any better than the guy who uses a bucket of water in lieu of a recovery machine?

I am not here to try to change your morals; if you can sleep at night, you do you. Be knowledgeable of the law and refrain from misquoting it as a scare tactic to increase your company’s sales. It is our responsibility not to destroy the planet. We shouldn’t make a mess that our children and grandchildren will be forced to clean up.

-Adam Mufich



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