May 16, 2012

EPA HEAT ON HOMEOWNERS AND HOMEBUYERS IN 2020

National Home Service Contract Association offers advice to homeowners and homebuyers on air conditioner mandates by EPA.

(Lenexa, KS). In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency placed into effect a ban on the manufacture of new HVAC systems using R-22 refrigerant. R-22 refrigerant, more commonly known as Freon®, is used in systems such as window air-conditioning units, dehumidifiers, heat pumps and central air conditioners.

The purpose is to reduce the amount of hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) emitted into the environment.  The EPA then added a gradual  production limits for R-22 refrigerant gas each year down to a total ban by 2020. After January 1, 2020, servicing of R-22-based systems will rely solely on recycled refrigerants or simply not at all. New systems must operate on an air called “410-A.  [Some have argued 410-A is just as bad for the environment, but another story].  The bottom line, if you have not converted your air conditioner to 410-A by 2020, you are going to feel the heat or put out significant dollars to upgrade.  You nd your real estate agent need to consider this development when pricing a new home.

Here is the issue  in a nutshell.  410-A cannot be utilized in older systems which previously used R-22 without making some substantial and costly changes to system components. Most new systems being installed today run on 410-A, but most existing systems still use R-22. Adding to the problem is many manufacturers have skirted the requirement in recent years by continuing to manufacture R-22 units but shipping them “dry” and having local HVAC installers fill with R-22 onsite. As a result, many HVAC professional have stockpiled R-22, but the price continues to rise in many areas to well over $100 a pound. As the price gets even high, consumers choice will be to pay over $1000 for black market or recycled R-22, or just convert to 410-A.  Neither may be in your budget.

“What is going to happen to the poor, those on limited incomes or even average middle class folks who don’t have perhaps $10,000 by 2020 to change out their air conditioners to 410-A?  Given the huge demand leading into 2020, won’t prices even go higher? Is Congress likely to sit by and let people die in the heat?” These are serious questions being asked by NHSCA Executive Director and Counsel Art Chartrand. Will the Trump administration delay the ban or offer other alternatives?

There are other gasses posing promise. Some are marketing R-421a from  RMS of Georgia marketed as Choice Refrigerant that claims it can replace R-22 with the same equipment. Everyone needs to carefully watch this and other new technologies that may affect this issue. Right now, most equipment manufacturers will not endorse R-421a as suitable.

Home service contracts provide service, repair or replacement for various items such as dishwashers, ovens, electrical and plumbing systems – and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC) – that become inoperable due to normal wear and tear during the contract period. Contracts do not provide coverage to upgrade units to meet new EPA rules, including 410-A, which could mean unexpected out-of-pocket costs to home sellers and buyers when replacement of an air conditioning system component is necessary.

“We wish to avoid consumers thinking or hoping that their home service contract will totally pick up this cost. The industry would love to,  but tis is akin to the government mandating all cars run on electricity. Car manufacturers could not cover that conversion cost under warranty. Home service contract providers cannot bear the cost of this huge and unproven governmental experiment either,” said Chartrand.  The good news is while the 410-A upgrade is not covered, the expense will often be far less with a home service contract in place says Chartrand. If 421a or other gasses prove worthy, then even more so. So prepare your existing home with a home service contract in place to help mitigate any cost. And be very aware when buying a new home.

 “We are recommending home buyers order a specific HVAC inspection to determine the exact life expectancy of the system – that is in addition to a routine home inspection,” said Billy Jensen, Fidelity National Home Warranty. “If an older system is still in good condition, and could be operational for another 5-10 years, it may not be a problem.  But if the system is more than 15 years old, and could potentially need expensive repairs or component replacement in the future, it’s probably best to negotiate with the seller.”

As always, the NHSCA suggests homebuyers work with a licensed and seasoned real estate professional to assist them in navigating this issue, as well as ensuring their own understanding of the refrigerant issue and its potential impact on them if a service problem arises, including the specific coverage afforded by their home service contract.

The National Home Service Contract Association (NHSCA) is a non-profit 501(c) (6) industry trade organization of member companies serving home service contract providers and consumer interests throughout the United States. For more great industry, media and consumer information, visit  http://www.homeservicecontract.org or call 913-871-5600.

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