Contractor Establishes Dialogue

How does a leading refrigeration contractor prepared for the HCFC phaseout? ContractingBusiness.com spoke with Ekle Small, director of design for the refrigeration services division of Stellar, a fully- integrated design, engineering, construction, and mechancial services firm based in Jacksonville, FL. Stellar employs approximately 800 architects, engineers, construction workers, refrigeration specialists, and technicians.

Q: Which types of refrigerants or refrigerant blends does Stellar work with?

A: Stellar works with R134a, R410A, R404A and R507 as chlorine-free alternate HFC refrigerants. Ninety percent of our work is in large refrigerant systems, in which we use natural refrigerants, such as ammonia and CO2.

Q: What have been the key components of communications with customers to help them understand the phaseout?

A: We've found that discussing the topic directly with customers is the best way to ensure their understanding of the upcoming changes and the impact new refrigerants will have on system performance. Through these conversations, customers have been responsive to updates. Some key points we highlight are the impact to system capacity and temperature levels for some components, including discharge gas and oil. We also inform them of the potential prevention of heat transfer if immiscible oil settles in the heat exchanger, which can cease plant operation. We emphasize that refrigerant characteristics change when water content in the oil exceeds 100 ppm.

Q: Have green trends had any influence on decisions to replace rather than repair?

A: The push toward green technology has certainly had an impact on whether customers decide to use a direct replacement or system change. We encourage them to use the Total Equivalent Warming Impact (TEWI) figure, which measures the global warming effects of these systems, as a tool to make decisions about replacements.

Q: In your opinion, are retrofits of systems designed for R-22 a viable option?

A: Although chlorine-free HFCs have become established, there is still need for further research into the refrigerant oil component and material hydrolysis. R134a is a good replacement for R-22 even with its lower volumetric capacity.

Q: Has Stellar been successful in convincing customers with “borderline” equipment to replace it prior to the phase-out, as a way to stay ahead of the game?

A: With our encouragement, many of our clients have sought replacements prior to the phase-out. For example, we recently replaced an entire system with Halogen-free refrigerants.

Q: What sort of refrigerant recycling method does Stellar use?

A: Stellar is a strong advocate for environmentally friendly disposal of these items. We use on-site pick up by certified recycling vendors to ensure refrigerants are handled by specialized recyclers.

Q: What are contractors' key concerns going forward, related to refrigerant availability or the R-22 phase-out in general?

A: As a result of the phase-out, contractors must understand that the green trend is taking hold, and the trend will be toward LEED gold certification. This means replacement refrigerants with low Global Warming Potential (GWP) will be the refrigerants of choice. High- efficiency compressors and associated equipment are driving construction of systems with low leakage rates and optimized components. As long as that awareness and education exists, the phaseout can present an opportunity rather than a concern.

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