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Climate action: replacing your air conditioner

The next time you wonder whether climate action can be successful, consider this: the Antarctic Ozone Hole, which spurred dozens of countries into action, would have been 40% larger than it is today had no concrete action been taken. Instead, scientists predict that the Earth’s ozone layer will recover to 1980 levels by the year 2050, if countries continue to deliver on steps they promised to take in a treaty signed in 1987.

The treaty, known as the Montreal Protocol, was ultimately adopted by all UN members, and required signatories to take specific steps to reduce ozone depletion near the Earth’s poles. Scientists now say that had the Montreal Protocol not been adopted, a second ozone hole would have opened above the Arctic region, and would have impacted Northern Europe.

So how does the Montreal Protocol impact us? The plan requires countries to eliminate chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC). By 2030, most ozone-depleting CFCs and HCFCs will be eliminated. For consumers, initially that means changes to refrigerants and solvents and fire suppression systems. Currently, new air conditioners and dehumidifiers use HCFCs as a transitional step away from CFCs. By 2030, HCFCs will be eliminated as well.

If you have an older air conditioner, refrigerator or dehumidifier, chances are that it uses a popular refrigerant known as R-22. You can still get new R-22 refrigerant for use in existing equipment, but manufacturers will no longer be allowed to make new R-22 after 2019. In 2020, R-22 will still be available, but only as a recycled material. Newly manufactured AC systems and dehumidifiers must use a more environmentally friendly refrigerant like R-410A, which is also scheduled to be eliminated by 2030.

The upshot of this is that the clock is ticking on your ability to recharge your old air conditioner. In just 4 years, you will not be able to get new R-22 at all. In the mean time, the cost of R-22 will rise significantly as manufacturers drop out of the R-22 marketplace. The questions for homeowners pile up.

• Do you replace a working air conditioning system now, or do you wait, knowing that you’ll pay more to acquire refrigerant for your older AC system?

• Do you replace a working air conditioner now to avoid the potentially higher cost of replacing/repairing your system in four years?

• Do you replace a working air conditioner now to take advantage of reduced operating costs?

• Do you replace a working air conditioner with one that’s more environmentally friendly?

These aren’t easy questions to answer. The life expectancy of an air conditioning system is between 8 and 15 years. The Montreal Protocol is expected to influence the air conditioning industry at least through 2030, and perhaps beyond. Putting off replacement of your existing AC system may mean that you don’t get full value from the replacement system, especially if climate action requirements change in the future.

Replacing your air conditioning system – even a working one – may make financial sense if your new system operates more efficiently than your current system does. In addition to the benefit of lower operating costs, you can also enjoy lower maintenance costs and contribute to improving the environment at the same time. At the moment, you can take advantage of some excellent rebates on efficient air conditioners and heat pumps.

If you would like more information about new or replacement air conditioning systems, or would like us to evaluate your current central air conditioner, please give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We can assess your current air conditioner, perform maintenance or recommend replacement options that can lower your cooling costs and help you take advantage of rebates and credits.