HVAC Residential Market / Air Conditioners / Refrigerants & Reclaim

A Contractor’s View of R-410A

[Editor’s Note: Amidst all the talk about refrigerants such as HCs, HFOs, and CO2, the vast majority of contractors are still working on HFC and HCFC systems. With that in mind, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, contractor Brian Baker of Custom Vac Ltd., offers some perspectives on the familiar refrigerants of R-410A and R-22. Although from a Canadian perspective, readers throughout North America can find practical information.]

In 2010, the federal government in Canada mandated that all “residential comfort cooling units increase their minimum energy efficiencies to a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) of 14.5 or higher from the previous standard of 13 SEER.”

In addition, the federal government followed a phaseout schedule for R-22 (an ozone depleting substance). HCFCs are a controlled substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999 and its ozone-depleting substances regulations of 1998 because of their ozone-depleting potential. Importation and manufacturing of new or virgin HCFCs is regulated by a federal allowance system.

The Canadian government adopted a phaseout schedule for HCFCs based on the terms of the Montreal Protocol that will reduce HCFC production by 2015 to just 10 percent of what was produced in 1996. By 2020, annual allowable amount of HCFCs is reduced by 99.5 percent except HCFC-123, which can be imported or manufactured until 2030 to service large air conditioning units (chillers) under the remaining 0.5 percent allowance. No new HCFC equipment can be manufactured or imported. By 2030 HCFCs will no longer be permitted to be imported or manufactured.

The great news is that since early 2003, contractors have had access to equipment containing the new ozone-friendly R-410A hydrofluoro-
carbon (HFC) refrigerant. With the absence of the chlorine, there is no environmental damage to the Earth’s fragile ozone layer.

Why Still R-22?

But regarding HCFCs, with the phaseout production already reduced by 75 percent and just four short years before the 90 percent reduction target date, why are so many R-22 units still being installed?

Let’s look at some facts about R-22 and R-410A, first regarding R-22.

• Units require a 25 to 50 percent increase in the amount of R-22 charge just to achieve the old 13 SEER minimum standard. This means that the potential for even more harmful emissions to the environment are possible.

• The refrigerant is damaging to the Earth’s ozone layer. A single chlorine molecule is capable of destroying 100,000 ozone molecules.

• Units are less expensive to install. Currently this is true, but as the price of R-22 refrigerant continues to increase, this will soon not be the case. Prices have already escalated and refrigerant shortages have been said to be severe, which likely means that R-22 will not be available. Most alternatives have some issues of performance, and equipment may not be capable of operating with the alternatives.

• R-22 is scheduled for phaseout. Ratcheting down of production unfortunately has received little media or consumer attention, resulting in consumers who don’t have all the facts making some poor decisions.

Factoring In R-410A

Now regarding R-410A refrigerant:

• It is a blend of HFC-125 and HFC-32 at a 50/50 ratio. Blends create some unique installation and service procedures and require upgraded training to fully understand the refrigerant and oil interrelationships.

• R-410A has been in the marketplace for many years. Many contractors have been installing R-410A in Manitoba since 2003–2004. In fact, Manitoba became the first province in Canada to provide an extensive one-day R-410A training course to refrigeration and air conditioning technicians. In the U.S. and Canada, units were installed in field testing applications that date back to 1997.

• At a minimum it is 5 percent more efficient than R-22. This is a significant savings as energy costs increase, and when coupled with higher-end units that utilize two-stage or inverter speed technology, these savings are even greater.

• There is 40 percent greater refrigeration capacity per pound of refrigerant compared to R-22. The result is that more work can be done with less, which is desirable.

There are some cautions. First, R-410A cannot be installed into an R-22 system. This is because R-410A is a high-pressure refrigerant, and as such requires special cylinders, tools, and procedures. If someone tries to install R-410A refrigerant in a system that is designed for R-22, it will result in equipment failure, explosion, and injury to persons and/or property.

Next, the oils used in the R-22 refrigerant system are not compatible with R-410A. As such, lubrication issues will result in equipment failure.

Making A Choice

Consumers need to ask themselves, “Why is this contractor trying to sell me an R-22 unit when it’s clear that R-410A has so many more advantages?” It’s all about finding reputable HVACR contractors who have taken industry training related to the new refrigerants. And be cautious. Just because a company is in business does not mean that they or their employees have taken the necessary training to properly install, maintain, and service the new products, or handle the new refrigerants.

Also, remember being energy smart is so much more than buying the best and most efficient comfort cooling system. Some other considerations to pass along to your customers are:

• Installing awnings on a home can reduce the size of an air conditioner by one size. Inside blinds and drapes are not nearly as effective as awnings.

• Plant shade trees that drop their leaves in winter.

• Build homes with large overhangs and give consideration to the home’s orientation on the lot.

• Avoid the temptation of buying too large of an air conditioner. A smaller air conditioner, while maybe not able to lower the indoor temperature as quickly, will remove more moisture, resulting in a much more desirable indoor comfort condition.

• Consider installing a heat pump, which can also offset a home’s heating requirements and lengthen the life expectancy of a furnace.

Care Tips

Some suggestions contractors can give their residential customers regarding caring for their HVAC system are:

• Trim brush and shrubbery surrounding outdoor units to prevent airflow obstruction.

• Make sure the outdoor coil is free from grass clippings, leaves, and other debris.

• Make sure the unit’s air filter and blower are clean.

• Keep in mind that a properly ventilated attic can reduce a system’s cooling load.

Customer Considerations

Customers also need to play a role in helping to protect the environment by being aware of several factors:

• All persons working on sealed refrigerant systems must be qualified tradespersons and have taken their environmental certification. End users should always ask for their credentials. It is illegal to vent or add top-off systems without first performing a leak test as per the provincial regulations and the system has been certified leak-free.

• It is illegal to add or mix refrigerants.

• Prior to recharging air conditioners with an alternative refrigerant, the existing refrigerant must be recovered and contained, system leak-tested, labeling requirements met, and confirmation with the manufacturer and your insurance company that the refrigerant can be used. There are many products that may cause or have the potential to cause harm to the user or equipment.

• Adding refrigerant sealants does not constitute proper leak testing and is not in conformance with the regulations. Always ensure proper leak testing procedures are followed.

Here in Manitoba, the penalties are clear and anyone wanting to report persons not following the regulations should contact Manitoba Conservation.

Failing to comply with the regulations may result in fines. First offence is $50,000 Canadian and six months in jail for an individual and $1 million Canadian for a corporation and one year in jail. The release of refrigerant is considered a crime against humanity and many persons and corporations have been charged and convicted.

For more information, go to www.customvac.mb.ca.

Publication date: 9/17/2012

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