R-410A: A Tale of Success

June 1, 2003
by Valerie Stakes, managing editor The Montreal Protocol mandated the phaseout of R-22 because of its ozone-depleting properties, leaving HVAC contractors

by Valerie Stakes, managing editor

The Montreal Protocol mandated the phaseout of R-22 because of its ozone-depleting properties, leaving HVAC contractors faced with decreasing supplies and increasing costs of this popular refrigerant. The end also looms for the production of new condensing units using R-22.

When R-410A emerged as the environmentally friendly heir-apparent to R-22, contractors had a choice to continue selling and servicing air conditioning systems charged with R-22 or embrace the future.

One contractor who has not only embraced R410-A, but is thriving because of it is Dave Hutchins, president of Bay Area Air Conditioning, in Crystal River, FL. In business since 1975, the $7.25 million company performs new construction and service work in Crystal River’s residential and light commercial markets.

“We began selling a few R-410A units in 1998, and kept steadily increasing. In 2000 we converted over completely, and since then, all of our replacement, high-end air conditioning system sales feature R-410A condensing units,” Hutchins says.

When asked what convinced him to switch to the refrigerant years before R-22 was phased out, he says it was clearly the way to go, both from an environmental and business standpoint.

“We spoke to top dealers of R-410A condensing units in our region, and they were convinced it was a great product. The feedback from their customers was terrific, and there were no equipment problems,” he says. “As we began selling them, we found only satisfied customers and increased margins. We knew we had made the right decision.”

Internal & External Marketing

Hutchins comments that when the decision was made to switch completely over from R-22 to R-410A, he met some resistance and concern from his sales staff and technicians.

“Our sales staff was concerned about the increased cost of R-410A units, and feared that customers couldn’t be sold on the benefits ,” he says.

Hutchins then decided to educate customers by launching an aggressive marketing campaign. “We created a series of print and radio ads featuring air conditioning systems that used R-410A. The ads explained the caps on the production R-22 and the environmental benefits of R-410A,” he says.

He also used direct mail. “Direct mail has been an extremely effective means to market to our customer base. We wanted everyone to know that switching to R-410A was a fiscally and environmentally correct decision based on the rising costs, limited availability, and detrimental effects of R-22.”

With this direct mail campaign, Hutchins was particularly able to reach customers with aging units. “We send letters to customer when their systems are 10 years old, describing new equiment options and explaining how it may cost more to keep their existing equipment than to replace it,” Hutchins says. “Here, we emphasized how buying yesterday’s technology could be costly in more ways than one.”

Hutchins quickly discovered that the campaign worked. “Becoming an R-410A dealer made us appear proactive and environmentally conscious in the eyes of our customers,” he says. “Furthermore, our salespeople found that not only did customers have questions regarding R-410-A units, they were demanding them.”

Price wasn’t much of an issue, either. “The $200 to $300 difference didn’t dissuade the majority of our customers, particularly those looking at high-end units.”

As a result, Bay Area’s replacement sales during its first year as a strictly R-410A dealer went from $2.1 million to $3 million. “Because of R-410A unit sales, we jumped more in a year than we ever had. It was also at a great margin because there were no builder models available in 2000, only top-of-the- line equipment,” says Hutchins.

Since then, Bay Area has experienced top Puron/R-410A sales in Florida for three years straight (2000, 2001, 2002), and is working on accomplishing the same in 2003. This is particularly impressive because Crystal River is more of a rural than metropolitan area.

Training & Service

When Bay Area Air Conditioning began selling R-410A units, the company made sure its technicians learned how to service them properly.

“The distributor provides extensive training for our service technicians and salespeople,” says Hutchins. “Although R-410A units aren’t more difficult to service, technicians need to be familiar with the R-22 phaseout schedule and understand service issues. ”

For example, moisture control is paramount. “Moisture is the enemy to coils in R-410A units,” Hutchins emphasizes “Therefore, the compressor can’t be open for too long, and you must use a filter drier every time you open the system.”

Pressure and proper refrigerant line set sizing are also important. Because R-410A units operate at a 50% higher pressure than those using R-22, it’s important for technicians to check what type of unit they’re servicing.

“You don’t want to hook up the a set of gauges for the wrong unit,” he adds.”If you’re servicing an R-410A system, you must use R-410A gauges; R-22 gauges can’t handle the pressure.”

The Future

For those still on the fence over switching from R-22, Hutchins re-emphasizes that R-410A is the wave of the future. “At least 12 manufacturers now offer R-410A-based equipment, which should indicate that it’s not a passing fancy,” he says. “Furthermore, it offers you the opportunity to promote environmentally friendly, high-end equipment. Not only is this great for your margins, but you look great in the eyes of your customers.”

Sounds like a winning combination.

Phaseout Schedule for HCFCs Including R-22

Under the terms of the Montreal Protocol, the U.S. agreed to meet certain obligations by specific dates that will affect the residential heat pump and air-conditioning industry:

  • January 1, 2004: In accordance with the terms of the Montreal Protocol, the amount of all HCFCs that can be produced nationwide must be reduced by 35% by 2004. In order to achieve this goal, the U.S. is ceasing production of HCFC-141b, the most ozone-damaging of this class of chemicals, on January 1, 2003. This production ban will greatly reduce nationwide use of HCFCs as a group, making it likely that the 2004 deadline will have a minimal effect on R-22 supplies.
  • January 1, 2010: After 2010, chemical manufacturers may still produce R-22 to service existing equipment, but not for use in new equipment. As a result, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system manufacturers will only be able to use pre-existing supplies of R-22 to produce new air conditioners and heat pumps. These existing supplies would include R-22 recovered from existing equipment and recycled.
  • January 1, 2020: Use of existing refrigerant, including refrigerant that has been recovered and recycled, will be allowed beyond 2020 to service existing systems, but chemical manufacturers will no longer be able to produce R-22 to service existing air conditioners and heat pumps.

For more information, visit www.epa.gov/spdpublc/title6/phaseout/22phaseout.html.

A Word from Copeland Corp: Why use R-410A?

Through Copeland Corp.’s extensive experience designing and marketing R-410A compressors, we’ve gathered more than seven years of performance data from the field on the efficiency, reliability, and benefits of scroll compressors using the new refrigerant. Among the findings:

First, it’s important to note there are several distinct differences between R-410A and R-22 refrigerants. The main difference is that R-22, which must be phased out of new equipment by 2010, contains ozone-depleting chlorine.

R-410A possesses excellent cooling capacity and operates at 50% higher pressure. The higher pressure allows the system to run at a lower temperature. Systems using R-410A must use a synthetic polyol ester oil (POE), instead of the mineral oil used by R-22 systems.

One key finding from our field data is that R-410A compressors experience 30% lower failure rates than R-22 units. The data also illustrates that when paired with proven scroll technology, the refrigerant’s performance is further enhanced in terms of energy efficiency, reliability, dehumidification, heat pump performance, and sound and capacity modulation.

These benefits, coupled with a lower cost over the life of the system, make R-410A the best, proven long-term solution for residential air conditioning applications. In fact, 2002’s R-410A unit sales were up 90% compared to 2001, and all major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) now have R-410A product lines.

Necessary Training

The amount of contractor training on R-410A has made a direct impact on the reliability results gathered from the field. Technicians need to continue to receive the proper training on the technical aspects and benefits of a R-410A system, as well as proper installation and retrofitting procedures.

As expected, our research has shown that training and proper installation procedures are the primary reason for lower failure rates (and fewer callbacks) with R-410A systems.

Copeland Corp. provides in depth training programs that deal with R-410A issues, such as POE lubricants and moisture, retrofitting and replacements, proper joint brazing, and critical maintenance tips. For more information on training details, dates and locations, visit emersonclimatecontractor.com.

Dave Hutchins, president of Bay Area Air Conditioning, in Crystal River, FL, can be reached at 352/795-9675 or by e-mail at [email protected].