The Refrigerant Issue: Putting It Into Perspective For North American Central
Air Conditioning Consumers|
In 1987 the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement, established requirements that began the phase out of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) in developed nations. These requirements were modified by various amendments, leading to the complete phase out of CFC consumption in 1996. The Copenhagen Amendment (1992) brought HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) under control. These guidelines and amendments have been implemented in the U.S. through various sections of the Clean Air Act, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
An HCFC known as R-22 has been the refrigerant of choice for residential heating and cooling systems for more than 40 years. Currently all major HVAC manufacturers use R-22 in more than 95 percent of the systems they build. And, even though HCFCs are considerably safer for the environment (at least 95 percent less damaging to the ozone layer than CFCs), they still contain chlorine which is an ozone-destroying chemical. The U.S. regulations under the Clean Air Act targeted several dates of specific interest to the HVAC industry:
Consumers can also feel confident that R-22 will be available at a reasonable price beyond 2020. Many comparisons have been made between the phase out of R-12 (a CFC) and R-22 (an HCFC), but few similarities actually exist. The major price increase that occurred with R-12 was largely due to a high government excise tax that was placed on it in order to accelerate its phase out. It is highly improbable that this will occur with R-22. This refrigerant is significantly less damaging to the ozone layer should it ever escape. And, there is a 20 + year phase out timeline firmly in place.
Because R-22 will be readily available for many years to come, market conditions will not be influenced by the same volatility and forced acceleration campaign that surrounded the phase out of R-12.
As R-22 is gradually phased out of use over the next two decades, R-410A will be phased in. R-410A is an HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) and is considered to be the most likely replacement when R-22 is no longer used in residential systems. However, as a point of clarification, units using R-22 will always be serviced with R-22. They should never need to be changed or retrofitted to a different refrigerant.
Is Puron™* A New Alternative Refrigerant?
Why Isn’t R-410A More Widely Used Today?
And, with these significant product and production process changes, testing and training must change also. Dealers must be schooled in stricter installation and service techniques required for working with R-410A units and must obtain new recovery equipment and servicing tools, as well. The Clean Air Act accommodates the magnitude of this total effort by allowing a lengthy transition period for the phase out of R-22.
Another reason R-410A is not widely in use is that industry production capacity of the refrigerant is limited. It will take several years for the chemical producers to gear up their production of R-410A for complete industry transition by 2010.
Beyond regulating the use of certain fluids, the Clean Air Act also mandated the use of common sense in dealing with refrigerants. By containing and using refrigerants responsibly — that is, recovering, recycling, reclaiming with the prevention of leaks — refrigerants have no ozone depletion consequences. The Clean Air Act outlined specific refrigerant containment and management practices for HVAC manufacturers, distributors, dealers and technicians. The single best thing a homeowner can do for the environment, regardless of the HVAC fluid used, is to select a reputable dealer who employs service technicians that have achieved Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification to handle refrigerants.
It’s important to remember that properly installed home comfort systems rarely develop refrigerant leaks. So a system using either R-22 or R-410A will have negligible detrimental impact on the environment for the length of its lifespan.
After selecting a reputable dealer, the next best thing a homeowner can do for the environment is to purchase a high efficiency home comfort system. With carbon dioxide (CO2 ) emissions tied directly to energy use, high efficiency heating and air conditioning systems make a significant contribution toward reducing the global warming problem.
Trane’s history of manufacturing efficient, environmentally sound products culminated in the development of the XL 1800 family of comfort systems more than three years ago. With a SEER up to 18.00, these are the most energy efficient systems available in the industry. No other manufacturer has been able to match our gains in efficiency. This same technical know-how and engineering expertise are being utilized to develop systems using the new R-410A refrigerant. As we debut our new generation of high efficiency Earth•Wise™*** products, consumers can feel confident as always that Trane manufactures the most reliable, durable and efficient home comfort systems available.
Date: June 1999
Last modified: March 29, 2015