R22 Outdoor Unit Replacement Decision

Recently, we have received a few questions about the advantages and disadvantages of replacing an older R-22 outdoor unit (partial replacement) versus replacing the whole system (indoor and outdoor components).  Since R-22 refrigerant and related equipment is being phased out over the next few years as part of the Montreal Protocol regulations to reduce the effect on atmospheric ozone, the decision about whether to stay with R-22 or jump to a new system with R410A is causing some confusion among HVAC consumers.  This is becoming a very common situation and there is really no right or wrong answer as it depends on your particular needs and your personal preferences.  We’ve compiled a few considerations and suggestions for reference.

Replacing an R-22 compressor or the outdoor unit (which contains the compressor) is a good, low cost way to get your A/C  system running again without changing the indoor system (which contains the cooling coil, the blower and often is integrated with a gas furnace or other heating system).  This approach can save some money,  if the indoor components are still in good shape and you can find the R-22 outdoor replacement parts along with the R-22 refrigerant. Many people have decided to do this and many contractors support this approach.  We think this repair will continue to be a viable, low cost repair option, at least through 2016 and maybe longer – as long as parts are available.

Some other low cost replacement options should be emerging even after the R-22 availability dwindles.  Many R-22 indoor coils built since 2006 were designed to be compatible with R-410A, which means a homeowner can keep the indoor equipment but upgrade to a newer outdoor unit and metering device. There are some extra parts and steps involved but it should still be lower cost than a total system replacement. Unfortunately, just like with the R-22 outdoor replacement option mentioned above, the overall efficiency of the system typically will not improve when only the outdoor equipment is replaced.

For people who are willing to pay a little more, some new, high efficiency retrofits are becoming available in the market.  These should help satisfy homeowners who want the low cost replacement but would also like to reduce their energy bills or address some comfort issues like humidity control, nighttime temperature swings or sound and air quality.

Please share any additional questions you have in the comments section below.

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24 thoughts on “R22 Outdoor Unit Replacement Decision

  1. I have a 2001 Goodman 5 ton unit with a loud compressor. My wife and I are both unemployed right now, we live in Louisiana, I hate to think of the cost of replacing the whole system. I know it’s coming, though. Thoughts?

    • Hi John, At 16 years old your unit is probably close to being due for replacement. On average, AC systems in the US last about 14 to 16 years depending on run time and in LA you probably have had a lot of hours on it. On the other hand, some of the older systems were loud to begin with and tend to get louder over the years so you might still have some time with the old unit. My mother’s system in MO was installed in 1987 and makes a bunch of noise but it keeps on running so who knows?

      Once it goes, however, you should probably begin to look into new systems just in case. You will get better efficiency and a new warranty. Repairing an old system is pretty risky unless it is something simple and cheap to fix. In the mean time, keep the indoor filter and outdoor coils clean and if it ever quits blowing cold air, shut it off and call some contractors to get estimates for both repair and replacement. Running a system that is not cooling can sometimes cause more damage to the unit. Hope this helps.

  2. My unit is 15 years old , is not cooling, and I was told it needs to be replaced. I’m an octogenarian recent widower and will be selling the house soon. Is it possible to have a new compressor installed with all of the needed retrofits?

    • Hi Linzie,
      Yes, a contractor can still repair your unit. However, depending on how expensive the repairs are you might be better off with a new unit or some other cooling alternatives like window AC units. You should probably have a contractor run some diagnostics on your old unit as it might be something simple and easy to fix. If they want you to change refrigerants in the process of repairing your system you might want to get a few estimates on that to make sure they are doing it properly. There are a lot of posts on this site recently about problems with contractors switching refrigerants on old systems. I hope this helps.

  3. My home was constructed in 1996, with a Houseman 2.5 ton condenser and gas heat pump in the attic. The house is 1285 Sq. Ft. one story. Is there any real advantage to going with a 3.5 ton or larger condenser? Thanks, Thomas Sacramento, CA

    • It is really important to get the size (cooling capacity in BTU/hr) right for your given space. If you put too much cooling in it will shut off to quickly every time it runs and you will not get adequate cooling, dehumidification or filtration throughout the space. If you don’t put enough cooling capacity in it will not keep up and cool the space adequately on the hottest days. A good contractor should be able to tell you what size is right for your space.

  4. I have a 12 year old outdoor compressor that is no longer working on my R22 AC unit. Glad I googled and was able to get more information. Thoughts on fixing part versus replacing outside unit? Hoping not to replace both indoor and out. This is for the top floor of our house – unit in attic and outside. Thanks

    • What size AC do I need for 1600 home? I’d like to replace only the compressor/condenser which is 11 yr old. Can I do that? Not sure but probably r 22. What size? live in AZ. Most units I see are with heat pump and some gas. Don’t want to replace gas unit inattic.

      • The capacity is usually listed and stamped on a metal tag attached to the system somewhere and is in shown in BTU/Hr units. You can also just look up the model number of your system on the internet – just type it in and you should get the specs from the OEM. The size/capacity of your current system is usually a good proxy for what your new system capacity should be but not always. If you changed your conditioned space, changed the insulation, or if the shade has changed, etc your capacity requirements might have changed. Your old system also might not have been sized right in the first place. It might be good to get a contractor to do some calculations to make sure your system is sized right.

        • Thanks Sara. I forgot to mention that the capacity rating of “tons” is pretty broad. Even though it is related to BTU per Hr, the tonnage classification is often used by OEM’s and contractors to define their product offering within a given range of approximate BTU’s. I also forgot to mention that capacity for a given square footage also varies with the geography and climate conditions e.g. how hot it gets in the summer, how humid it gets, the average temperature at night, etc. Just thought I would mention this. Thanks for using our site!

    • You can always replace the compressor or you can replace the outdoor unit if you can still find an R22 replacement. At 12 years old you might be running out of useful life as most systems in the US last about 14 years more or less depending on run time (how long your cooling season is) and whether it is a heat pump that runs all year round. There have been a lot of advancements in HVAC tech over the last 12 years so you might check out the various efficiencies and comfort features available while shopping.

  5. HI,

    I have a 12 year old R22 AC condenser that is not working. HVAC contractor said I need to replace it, but since new unit will be R410A, I also need to replace hair handler and furnace (all in one unit), quoting me $8K for a 3 ton system. Does this sound legit?

    • Prices vary a lot from region to region and also from contractor to contractor but $8K could be in the ballpark for a new system installed. Prices also vary based on efficiency and other features so you should make sure you know what you are getting. We always recommend getting at least three quotes from different contractors and not just to check prices. It is good that you and the contractor are on the same page with questions about efficiency, payback, air quality and comfort. You might also ask about a heat pump option (or dual fuel) and high efficiency models (>16 SEER) and some of the advantage of those systems. Making sure your system is installed right is another important factor to consider before deciding.

      • Thanks Frank.

        The house is a second home (at the beach), so the heat is only used at full temp occasionally. Mostly I keep the thermostat at 55 just to keep the pipe from freezing.

        Contractor also stated that a high-efficiency unit may not be the best way to go based on the above, does that make sense?

        • Economic return and payback on a higher efficiency, premium system would be affected by how much you run it. So, if it’s not going to running all the time then going with the minimum government allowed efficiency might make sense. Other reasons to go with high efficiency have to do with comfort (avoiding wide temperature swings between on and of cycles) and humidity control. If you and the contractor are on the same page with your expected energy costs and comfort for the system you select and it gets installed properly you are probably on the right track. Good luck and thanks for using our site!

  6. I had new AC unit installed Rheem model rawl-090az using R410a to replace an old unit:Rheem rawd-091caz serial # 7335f320709077 that I had since 2007 and was using R22. I had no problems getting the old unit to cool down 3000 sq.ft. to 75f and below. the new unit can only cool the space down to 79f and it works constantly to maintain 79f. why? the installer does not want to do anything about it…

  7. Hello, I have a Lennox central air system with R-22. The furnace needs to be replaced. I thought it be best to also replace the a-coil with a A-410 coil at the same time to save labor costs in the future when I need to replace the outdoor compressor which is very old and could go out soon, at which time a replacement would be running with A-410. do you foresee any problems with this plan? I believe the TXV would need to be changed.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Chuck,

      I would seriously consider replacing the outdoor, along with the indoor coil, just to avoid complications later, along with gaining a possible efficiency boost.

      But if you are only considering replacing the indoor coil at this time, then you are on the right path. Most modern R-22 indoor “A” coils are compatible with R-410A. If your certified contractor knows your plan going into this partial system replacement, then I believe he can select a coil which would meet your future needs. You are also correct that the TXV would most likely need to be replaced as well, when the future change to R-410A takes place.

      Hope this helps,
      Scott

      • When you say “most modern R-22 coils are compatible with R-410a”, what years? I had a furnace replaced in 2005/6 with a new Trane coils installed to get AC when i had the $$. Now want AC, but installer wants to put in new coils, too, because of the R410a change over. I’m not happy about the price….

        • Some equipment manufacturers designed their R22 coils to be compatible with R410A and this started happening from around 2005 to 2010 when all new equipment moved to R410A. You will have to ask the contractor to check with the OEM to see if your coil can be used with R410A. If so, you will still need to have the coils cleaned out and the expansion device changed or adjusted for the different refrigerant.

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