HVAC and the Ozone Layer

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Residential HVAC systems are designed to keep your home’s indoor environment comfortable all year long. But what about everybody’s home, the Earth? We want to minimize the negative impact HVAC systems could have on the outside environment we all share. The ozone layer in the Earth’s atmosphere is one major element of the environment that needs to be protected from potential harm.

What is the Ozone Layer?

High up in the Earth’s atmosphere, in a region called the stratosphere, there’s a layer of ozone gas, O3. In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), about 90% of all the ozone in the Earth’s atmosphere is found in that layer. This layer of ozone gas forms a sort of shield all the way around the Earth.

Why is the Ozone Layer Important?

The ozone gas in the stratosphere absorbs a damaging kind of ultraviolet radiation, called UV-B, from the Sun. This significantly decreases the amount of UV-B radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface. That’s important because UV-B radiation is extremely harmful to living things. National Geographic reports that research has found that increased ultraviolet B radiation exposure decreases the reproductive rates of many organisms.  This includes ones that are vital to the food chain like phytoplankton. Increased ultraviolet B radiation also causes serious negative health effects for human beings.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that overexposure to UV radiation increases the risk for many things.

  1. melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers
  2. premature skin aging and growths like actinic keratoses
  3. damage to the eyes
  4. increases the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration
  5. overexposure to UV radiation can harm the immune system as well and make people more susceptible to infections.

By absorbing UV-B radiation before it can reach the Earth’s surface, the ozone layer helps to protect us against all of these health hazards. Think of it as sunscreen for the Earth!

See Also: How to Save Energy While You’re Away on Vacation

 

See Also: Spring Energy Saving Tips

What’s the Connection between HVAC and the Ozone Layer? 

Ever heard of Freon? Freon, also known as R-22, is the refrigerant that was most commonly used in residential HVAC systems prior to 2010. R-22 is a CFC, which means that if it’s released into the atmosphere, it can harm the ozone layer. Because of this, the US government has begun phasing out R-22. As of 2010, new HVAC units cannot use R-22. Most use R410a, an ozone-safe refrigerant, instead. And as of 2020, R-22 will be phased out completely, meaning that it won’t be available for recharging HVAC systems anymore.

See Also: Keep Your Cool During the R-22 Phaseout

Since pre-2010 HVAC systems in use today still contain R-22.  Special measures need to be taken with those systems to make sure that R-22 doesn’t get released into the atmosphere. For instance, if an R-22 system develops a refrigerant leak, it’s especially important to fix the leak instead of just “topping it off.” That will also help to ensure your system keeps running as efficiently as possible. Also, when older HVAC units that use R-22 are replaced, the EPA requires that the refrigerant must be recovered from the old system for safe disposal. The EPA certifies technicians who are specially trained to handle refrigerant properly in order to protect our ozone layer.

See Also: Difference Between R-22 and R-410a

How Can I Protect Myself and My Family from Ultraviolet Radiation?

In order to help us stay safe and healthy while the ozone layer heals, the EPA has developed the UV Index Scale. This provides guidelines for avoiding overexposure to UV radiation. On the EPA’s website, they provide UV Index forecasts specific to your location. Then on the UV Index Scale, they tell you what precautions need to be taken for the expected UV level that day.  This can as easy as wearing SPF 30+ sunscreen, reducing sun exposure from 10 AM to 4 PM, and wearing protective clothing including wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.

Conclusion

The ozone layer is important to our health and the health of the world around us. Correctly maintaining, servicing, and disposing of older HVAC systems plays a major role in protecting that ozone layer from further damage and helping it heal.

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