Dangerous Chemicals Above Our Heads

In 1987, an international environmental agreement, known as the Montreal Protocol, adopted requirements that triggered the phase-out of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) all over the world due to their ozone-depleting nature.

After some modifications were later made to the protocol, it led to the ban of CFC production in all developed countries as well as the phase-out of HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons). Although the negative impact of HCFCs to the ozone layer is less damaging than CFCs, they still contain chlorine which is a threat to the ozone. (More here)

Refrigerants

HCFC-22, commonly referred to as R-22, has been used as a refrigerant in residential AC’s and heat pumps for many years now. Unfortunately, the release of R-22, especially from leaks, promotes ozone depletion and global warming. As part of the plan to phase out R-22 over the coming years, AC manufacturers are offering systems with ozone-friendly refrigerants.

Unfortunately, many homeowners do not know about the Montreal Protocol’s R-22 phase-out schedule. This article highlights the R-22 phase-out schedule, the new replacements for the R-22 refrigerants as well as what to pay attention to when purchasing or repairing a residential AC system or a heat pump.

R-22 Phase-out Schedule

The United States agreed to implement some recommendations of the Montreal Protocol, relating to ACs and heat pumps, by specific dates. According to the agreement, the US was required to reduce its use of HCFCs in ACs and heat pumps by 35% below the U.S. baseline by 2004, 75% by 2010, 90% by 2015 and 99.5% by 2020.

According to the Clean Air Act, refrigerant should never be released into the environment during installation, repair or retirement of equipment. This means that after 2020, R-22 refrigerants must be recycled/reclaimed for reuse in existing systems or destroyed all together. However, the manufacture of R-22 will no longer be possible after 2010 and companies won’t be allowed to import R-22 after 2010. You can get more information about R-22 phase-out on EPA’s site.

Alternatives to R-22 Refrigerants in Residential AC’s

As ozone-depleting R-22 is phased out, ozone-friendly alternatives are being introduced to replace them. EPA is mandated to review alternatives to R-22 to establish their environmental impact. EPA has reviewed many alternatives to R-22 and compiled a list of acceptable substitutes for residential air conditioning.

The first one is R-410A which contains hydrofluorocarbons (HFC’s) that do not promote ozone depletion, but just like R-22, causes the greenhouse effect. R-410A is sold under different trade names, such as GENETRON AZ-20, Puron, SUVA 410A and Forane 410A. Another acceptable substitute for R-22 is R-407C. R-407C is popularly used in Europe but not the U.S.

Servicing existing systems

Existing heating and cooling systems that use R-22 will continue to be serviced with this refrigerant. Neither the Montreal Protocol nor the EPA, recommend the change or conversion of existing R-22 systems for use with ozone-friendly substitute. However, such changes, known as “retrofits,” can be allowed if the substitute is acceptable to the system.

R-407C can be used for retrofits while the R-410A refrigerant is not allowed because of its higher working pressure. In most cases, the alternative refrigerants will first make certain changes to the system components in order to work efficiently. According to AirconWA technicians, in such cases, service technicians will have to continue charging R-22 into the AC system when repairing leaks.

EPA warns homeowners and air conditioning technicians against buying and servicing air conditioning systems with unapproved refrigerants, such as propane, as they pose potential safety hazards, such as fire or explosion. Residential air conditioners are not designed to use propane or other flammable refrigerants.

Installing new systems

The phase-out of ozone-depleting R-22 and the introduction of new eco-friendly refrigerants, such as R-410A, has necessitated the redesign of heating and cooling systems. New units come with compressors and other similar components that are specifically designed to use specific alternative refrigerants.

For example, if you install a new outdoor system (known as a “condensing unit,” which has a condenser and a compressor), there is a high probability that a new indoor system (known as an “evaporator”) would also be required. These significant process changes mean that testing and training would also change. Therefore, consumers should ensure that dealers of AC systems with substitute refrigerants are highly trained on how to install and service such systems.

Handling Your System

The Clean Air Act not only prohibits the manufacture of ozone-depleting refrigerants but also encourages responsible handling of refrigerants. Using refrigerants responsibly – which include recovering, recycling, reclaiming, and reducing leaks – reduces their ozone depletion and greenhouse effects. The Act outlines refrigerant management practices for heating and cooling system manufacturers, dealers, technicians and even consumers.

Most cases of refrigerant leaks are often associated with improper installation and servicing of HVAC systems. Therefore, ensure your home comfort systems are properly installed and serviced to minimize refrigerant leaks so that the impact of the refrigerants to the environment is reduced. EPA does not recommend repair or replacement of small systems due to system leaks, which can harm the environment and increase operation and maintenance costs.

To ensure that your system does not contribute to ozone depletion or global warming, ensure that you choose a reputable HVAC dealer with EPA-certified service technicians who are trained on how to handle refrigerants. This certification is commonly known as the“Section 608 certification,” which refers to the section of the Clean Air Act that prohibits release of ozone-depleting substances from HVAC units.

Purchasing New Systems

Homeowners are advised to buy energy-efficient systems which not only help to conserve the environment but also helps in cost savings. Energy efficient air conditioners consume less energy to generate the same cooling effect as non-energy efficient air conditioning units. Even if your AC is just 10 years old, you can significantly reduce your energy bills by replacing it with an energy-efficient model.

Energy Star rated systems can save homeowners up to 40 percent on their energy bills every year. These systems are manufactured by most leading companies. Although they share the same features with other standard products, they have energy saving technology.

When choosing an R-22 system or R-410A system with the Energy Star label, ensure it has a minimum SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio). Systems with higher SEER specification are more efficient.

 

To conclude..

Apart from energy efficiency, you also need to consider other important factors such as performance, reliability, and price before buying a heating/cooling appliance system but living in healthy, clean and eco friendly environment shouldn’t be looked at like you’re buying a car. Our and environment’s health should be primary concern after all. At the end, we do not own the planet, we’re just tenants.

 

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