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Keep your cool during the R-22 phase out

Originally presented to BOMA-North Alabama on March 31, 2010 by Mike Banks, Conditioned Air Solutions

What is R-22 and Why Should You Care?
R-22 is the industry name for the primary refrigerant used by cooling equipment manufacturers for the last 50 years. Most people call it Freon®, which is the DuPont trademark name for their line of hydro chloroflourocarbon (HCFCs). In the HVAC industry we use many refrigerants, but R-22 has been the workhorse for years and years. As of January 1, 2010, HVAC manufacturers can no longer manufacture products that use R-22. This change is going to impact decisions all business owners make about repairing or replacing their HVAC systems. Refrigerants have been successfully phased out before

Back in 1987, the Montreal Protocol identified CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) as contributing to the depletion of ozone in the Earth’s stratosphere. Among the first to be phased out were R-12 and R-11. R-12 was used primarily in auto air conditioners and refrigerators. R-11 was used in large equipment and chillers. These phase outs didn’t impact most people much because they were used in equipment people tend to replace every 7-10 years.

But the phase out of R-22 will be a bit different: R-22 has been around a very long time and most HVAC systems have a much longer life cycle (10-15 years compared to 5-7 for most average cars). As of today, the vast majority of HVAC units in service are still using R-22.

Refrigerant is a controlled substance
Anyone who works with refrigerant is required to keep scrupulous records of how the chemicals are managed. This includes how much is used, recovered, recycled and disposed. Venting, or releasing refrigerant into the air is strictly prohibited?everything must be accounted. All of this takes more time and training, which of course is more expensive. Any technician that works with refrigerant must be certified.

Transition over the next 10 years
The manufacture of new R-22 equipment ended January 1st of this year. Suppliers still have new equipment in stock (wise deals can be found!). Repair parts for your existing equipment will continue to be available for the foreseeable future; the actual R-22 refrigerant will be available until 2020.

So you have the next 10 years to transition to non-R-22 equipment. That gives you plenty of time to manage the transition wisely. You can continue to service and maintain your current R-22 equipment in good working order using drop-in replacement R-407A (but it is not the perfect replacement). The new refrigerant that is intended to replace R-22 in new equipment is R-410A.

Decision criteria for repair or replace has changed
As a business owner, your natural inclination is usually to repair your HVAC equipment and postpone replacement until absolutely necessary. If your equipment is less than 10 years old, most of the time it will make sense to repair it. For older equipment, you are more likely better off replacing with new equipment rather than repairing the old equipment. In general, you should begin to question the assumption that repair is always a better choice than replacement.

Be smart, educate yourself
Learn the basic differences between R-407A (retrofit substitute for R-22, but not a perfect solution) and R-410A (replacement for R-22). Using R-407A will allow you to extend the useful life of your current R-22 equipment, but less efficiently. Converting to new R-410A equipment takes advantage of the newer technology and gets your equipment transitioned to the updated refrigerant.

We expect there will be counterfeit R-22 available. Be very wary of anyone who offers you a stash of R-22 refrigerant. Because HVAC contractors are heavily monitored by the EPA, business owners will make better targets for these unscrupulous counterfeiters.

Work with a professional you trust
You have plenty to do and don’t need to become an expert in refrigerant! That is why you need to work with an HVAC professional, someone you trust to advise you on your equipment. Just like auto mechanics, the days of just popping the hood and changing the oil yourself are gone. The equipment is more complicated, there are regulations to be be followed, and most of all, there are safety and financial considerations as well.