Opportunities Abound for Retrofits

October 5, 2009
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Refrigeration systems can theoretically be repaired indefinitely, and that may include changing out a compressor. (Photo courtesy of Zero Zone.)


A huge portion of the commercial refrigeration market is still utilizing R-22 equipment. In fact, Grady McAdams, vice president - sales and marketing, Heatcraft Refrigeration Products, Atlanta, noted that research and analysis of the 1997 to 2007 installed base showed the retrofit market for HCFC condensing units for commercial refrigeration applications could be as high as 2.5 million units.

Uncertainty at the federal level is one of the reasons why some end users have decided to stick with R-22 for the time being. Many supermarkets, for example, opted to stay with R-22 for medium- and low-temperature applications until there was clarity on refrigerant regulations, said Phil Gatto, market unit manager - refrigeration, Alfa Laval/Standard Refrigeration, Melrose, Ill.

“Probably 80 percent of the stores are still using R-22. If we consider there are an average of four to six systems per store, and figuring that most of the independents still use R-22 for medium temperature, my best guess is that there may be over 100,000 systems in U.S. supermarkets presently using R-22.”

This is good news for contractors because that means there are numerous R-22 units (as well as some CFC units still out there) that will need to eventually be repaired, replaced, or converted to HFC refrigerants.

REPAIR OR REPLACE

As can probably be expected, the economy is having an impact on whether end users repair or replace their HCFC equipment. McAdams stated that end users with constrained cash flow and capital budgets are often choosing to repair rather than replace their refrigeration equipment unless there are expensive recurring repair costs that make it necessary for replacement. “The decision to repair versus replace can be complicated as store owners have limited cash flow and will first look to minimize out-of-pocket expenses when it comes to equipment.”

In some cases, added McAdams, it may even be in the contractor’s best interest to repair a piece of equipment versus recommending replacement, unless there is failure of a major component. “For the end user, there is likely a breakeven point where it doesn’t make financial sense to repair a unit. In most cases, the factors that come into play include how often has the unit been repaired, how much money has been spent in a given time frame, and whether they can afford to replace at that time.”

Scott Martin, director of sustainable technologies, Hill-Phoenix, Conyers, Ga., agreed that more supermarket owners are definitely opting to repair right now. “Theoretically you can keep replacing parts forever. There are cars still on the road from the 1920s and 1930s, and people keep fixing them up. That may not make the most sense, but it usually comes down to the money an owner wants to spend.”

During this remodel, installers remove old R-22 cases and replace them with new cases that use HFC refrigerants. (Photo courtesy of Zero Zone.)

Some owners spend the money to dress up their existing refrigeration cases with new bumpers or panels, said Martin, but they may not want to invest in upgrading the refrigeration components themselves or converting to an HFC. “If money is available, owners will buy new cases because there is significant efficiency gained with new models, as they have high-efficiency fans and heat exchangers, as well as improved air curtains and lighting systems, to name a few benefits. Owners can save energy by changing out to new display cases.”

“Refrigeration systems can be repaired indefinitely,” said Steve Borer, Midwest regional sales manager, Zero Zone Inc., Isanti, Minn. “However, as system designs evolve, there comes a point where purchasing a replacement system becomes the best choice from an energy efficiency and technical compatibility standpoint.”

Probably the best time to suggest replacing equipment rather than simply repairing it may be when a store is undergoing a major renovation, said Bruce Hierlmeier, P.E., engineering manager, Zero Zone Inc., North Prairie, Wis. “Replacements are often done at the same time as a major remodel, which is usually every seven to 10 years. On small outdoor systems, it may be time to replace a unit if the compressor fails at the same time as the condenser and receiver are showing signs of corrosion.”

Contractors can help their customers make the decision to replace rather than repair by thoroughly evaluating the systems that are in place. “Look at the end user’s existing energy consumption and their existing leak rate,” said Martin. “If they have a leaky system that’s using a lot of energy, why not take everything out and replace it with new, high-efficiency equipment? Contractors need to focus on leak rates, energy consumption, and the age of the equipment, as well as the return on investment. The investment in new equipment has to make economic sense.”

To show whether a replacement does make economic sense, Hill Phoenix offers a service in which they work with their dealers to evaluate a customer’s existing equipment. “We work within their budget to do whatever makes the most sense. Along with the contractor, we can suggest a good-better-best approach, depending on the customer’s goals and objectives.”

The cost of ownership analysis is very important in determining whether replacement is a good economic decision, said Hierlmeier. “The challenging part is estimating the future cost of R-22 as supplies diminish.”

One of the best times to suggest replacing equipment may be when a store is undergoing a major renovation. Here, skilled technicians assemble a new Zero Zone R-507 refrigeration system. Courtesy of Zero Zone.

THE CONVERSION FACTOR

End users who currently utilize R-22 equipment that is well-maintained and in good shape may consider retrofitting their systems with an HFC (although it’s always wise to check with the OEM to make sure the warranty will not be voided) rather than replacing them.

If end users are simply replacing R-22 with a “drop in” such as R-422D, not much needs to be done, said Gatto. He noted that most systems will have to be changed to polyolester oil, and all valves need to be checked for sizing if the net refrigerating effect of the new refrigerant is better or worse than the old refrigerant. “Driers must be changed several times on the liquid and suction sides, and there are a lot of core driers used during this process. Gaskets and seals might need to be changed, as the swell rates may be different. Other than that, it is a pretty easy swap.”

When changing from R-22 to a refrigerant with completely different characteristics, such as R-404A, the same concerns apply, said Gatto. “In this case, expansion valve changes and nozzle changes are also likely. All EPRs [evaporator pressure regulators] must be resized and oil flow rates through the separator examined.”

A technician changes an electronic expansion valve’s program to accommodate new refrigerant for which the system has been retrofitted. (Photo courtesy of Hill-PHOENIX.)

If R-410A is being considered as a replacement in HCFC equipment, then all system components must have higher working pressure ratings, said Gatto. “On the high side, components including receivers, condensers, valves, etc., must be rated for 600- to 650-psi working pressure. This is significantly higher than the 400- to 450-psi rating on R-22 system components. Many manufacturers have had to make fundamental changes in construction to their components to attain the higher psi rating, resulting in relatively higher production costs and market prices.”

Repairing, replacing, or converting R-22 equipment is something every end user needs to think about, and now is the time to consider all options, especially if the equipment has a leak or other maintenance issues. As McAdams noted, it is highly anticipated that the cost of R-22 will increase dramatically when the supply cannot meet demand and, as a result, the costs incurred by even a small leak will increase very quickly. To be prepared for the phaseout of R-22, contractors and end users need to become educated about the regulation changes and understand the impact those changes will have after Jan. 1, 2010.

For more information, EPA’s GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership provides a “Best Practices Guideline for Commercial Refrigeration Retrofits” on its Website at www.epa.gov/ozone.

Publication date: 10/05/2009

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