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Step Up the Refrigerant Changeover

Unless you've been living under a rock, you're sure to know about the R-22 phaseout — the Environmental Protection Agency has established the phaseout of the HCFC refrigerant R-22, with no production or importing beginning in 2020. However, equipment manufacturers must phaseout the use of R-22 in new units by Jan. 1, 2010.

The industry has already begun to see the effects of this phaseout, as more and more manufacturers are releasing products that use the environmentally friendly R-410A refrigerant, which some experts contend does not contribute to ozone depletion.

However, the phaseout has been slower than predicted, and R-22 isn't going away as quickly as expected. In fact, today's demand for R-22 is higher than what was expected in 1998, when the phaseout began.

While a number of non-ozone- depleting compounds have been available for many years — including R-410A — equipment that uses R-22 is still the best seller. Simply, the transition to R-410A has been much slower than anticipated.

R-410A offers some wonderful advantages, but it requires the manufacturers to redesign their products to take advantage of the properties of the refrigerant. The reason why a refrigerant works is because it captures the heat from one place and then releases the heat somewhere else. R-410A captures heat and then releases it better than R-22 did, so manufacturers have found that they need less refrigerant in an R-410A air conditioner than they needed in an R-22 air conditioner.

Because there's less refrigerant, manufacturers need less copper tubing and often can use a smaller compressor. The bad news is that contractors can't use R-410A in air conditioners that take R-22.

Increase Awareness

With the 2010 deadline fast approaching, R-22 and equipment that uses R-22 will start to become more scarce than it is today. Contractors will be required to sell and install systems that use R-410A as the supply of R-22 systems decreases.

The EPA projects that an R-22 supply shortage is likely to occur by 2015 if current service practices and the small availability of reclaimed R-22 remain the same.

According to DuPont, a manufacturer of refrigerants, the time to act is now. Dealers, service contractors and equipment owners should be taking the appropriate action now, the company says, including developing a refrigerant management plan to transition away from R-22.

DuPont offers a brochure that lists four steps to take in this transition:

  • Repair all leaks.
  • Retrofit to alternative refrigerants.
  • Recover and reclaim.
  • Recommend new equipment with non-ozone-depleting refrigerants.

Seems simple enough. But who should be recommending the new equipment? Most homeowners are more educated than before about types of equipment they look to buy, especially when it comes to products that are good for the environment. Some demand may start to come from the consumer side. Contractors should also be aware of the changes and should begin recommending this equipment to their customers.

However, it's the distributors who work closely with both equipment manufacturers and contractors, and they're the ones who should begin recommending new equipment to their customers.

With market transition to R-410A equipment going slower than anticipated, the time is now for distributors and contractors to step it up.

Honeywell, another manufacturer of refrigerants, agrees that contractors should begin to recommend to their customers a change to alternative refrigerants that are 100 percent non-ozone-depleting and are not subject to a phaseout — and, according to the company, in many cases are more efficient than R-22.

Like DuPont, Honeywell also recommends that contractors look into utilizing a certified R-22 reclaim program for R-22 supply. Honeywell provides its R-410A wholesalers with details about these programs and encourages contractors to work with their wholesaler.

Support Information

Both Honeywell and DuPont have created support materials to help educate contractors.

DuPont's brochure, “R-22 Outlook: Planning Now for Changes in Refrigeration & Air Conditioning,” outlines the phaseout and encourages contractors to take action now.

Honeywell has also put together an informative piece, “R-22 Allocation: What You Should Know and What You Should Do.” In it, the company also encourages contractors to take action now.

By providing these brochures and the other information available from the manufacturers to contractors, distributors can be an integral part in helping the industry through the phaseout. Working with contractor customers, providing them with the information from the manufacturers, distributors can help them sell R-410A equipment.

In addition, both companies have a wealth of information available on their websites. Honeywell's website, www.410A.com, includes information on R-410A and its R-410A vendor certification program.

In addition, the websites address some common myths associated with the R-22 phaseout, such as:

  1. The higher pressures of R-410A are unsafe.

  2. The higher pressures of R-410A cause air conditioners to break down more often.

  3. R-22 will be cheap and available through 2020.

  4. R-410A isn't the final refrigerant, and other new refrigerants are coming.

  5. R-410A costs too much.

  6. R-410A technology is too new and risky.

DuPont's website, www.refrigerants.dupont.com, includes all the support materials the company has available and even has an area where users can go to find a distributor that sells R-410A.

Is R-410A Really Better?

The question has come up many times since its introduction and the subsequent phaseout of R-22. But what is the answer? If it is better than R-22, it's the kind of information that your contractor customers would find useful when selling R-410A equipment.

One place you can turn is, again, to the manufacturers. Honeywell devotes a section on its website to addressing this controversial question — clearing up any doubt you or your customer may have when it comes to R-410A.

According to the site, R-410A is environmentally friendlier, as it does not contribute to ozone depletion. In addition, R-410A air conditioners and heat pumps are today's state-of-the-art systems and utilize the most current technology available for efficient and reliable operation. The heart of every air conditioner or heat pump is the compressor, and the design of newer systems calls for R-410A refrigerant.

Simply put, a wealth of information available to distributors, contractors and consumers … you simply have to know where to look. Consumers are going to look to their contractors, and contractors are going to look to their distributor.

You've got to know that, even though almost everyone is aware of the R-22 phaseout, most don't really know that much at all. To whom can you turn? Why not the refrigerant manufacturers themselves? After all, they're manufacturing it, so they'll certainly be able to answer your questions and help you sell it to your customers.


Pete Grasso is an associate editor with Contracting Business magazine. Contact him at 216/931-9439 or [email protected].

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