Guest Blog

Refrigerant Retrofits: We’re Being Our Own Worst Enemy

December 20, 2012

A mysterious doomsday prophecy has been unleashed on the HVAC industry, and we are in a mad panic to find a solution. Recently there have been a slew of articles published about refrigerants, covering everything from phaseouts to retrofits to the elusive “drop-in replacement.”

These articles have cited procedures to change from mineral oil to POE and in some cases a mixture of the two. They have gone so far as to list which refrigerants will work best in specific applications and how to adjust systems to maintain performance. All of this is being done in an apparent effort to “save” the massive amount of R22 equipment that will need to be serviced.

I say it’s time for a reality check. We have known about phasing out R-22 since 1990, and phaseouts of other refrigerants have been well publicized. This is a federally mandated change; we as an industry didn’t have any control over it. Yet we are approaching the problem as if it was our fault and we’re expecting consumers to blame us when the refrigerant their system needs is no longer available.

I agree that there should be some retrofitting of large commercial and industrial systems, but for the vast majority of systems retrofitting doesn’t make sense for the consumer or the contractor. It will leave contractors open to liability by forcing systems to operate in a way they were not designed to. And consumers will end up with equipment that is less efficient and prone to fail.

I’m sure some will read this blog and point to the phaseout of R-12, but R-12 was phased out in a much shorter time period and leaks in existing systems were rampant. This time we have had years to develop viable replacements.

Retrofitting R-22 systems is just another example of being our own worst enemy. Contractors have complained for years about consumers holding on to systems that should be replaced. Yet we are falling all over ourselves to come up with ways to keep that equipment operational.

Why do so many contractors install dry-shipped R-22 condensers instead of moving on to new refrigerant? Why are we so stubborn that we can’t move on to newer and better alternatives and take our customers with us?

 The phaseout of refrigerants will be a great boost to our industry if we allow the scarcity and increasing costs of refrigerants to motivate consumers to replace their systems.

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Twin Cities contractor Aabott Ferraro helped retrofit an older St. Paul home.


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