By now, nearly everyone in the HVACR and environmental controls industries is well aware of the massive, international phaseout of R-22 - the refrigerant of choice for more than four decades. The tedious process of converting to a more ozone-friendly refrigerant, however, has led to a classic example of two industry leaders working together to redesign equipment that meets more than the refrigerant challenge.
PoolPak International, a manufacturer of dehumidification and heat recovery equipment for indoor swimming pools (as well as warehouses, libraries, archival facilities, and other applications), wanted to convert to refrigerant R-410A. With this conversion, the company’s engineers were concerned that the increased pressure necessary to make the gas effective in condenser coils, which are critical for its systems to remove excess moisture from a pool room (natatorium), might cause joints and connections in the coils to fail and leak.
“Most of the world is not aware of just how complex this refrigerant conversion has been,” said Jim Voitel, marketing director for PoolPak. “All of our coils had to be redesigned and used in the production of new equipment by Jan. 1, 2010, as specified by the Montreal Protocol for phasing out R-22 and the use of all CFCs [chlorofluorocarbons] and HCFCs [hydrochlorofluorocarbons].”
After that date, R-22 may still be produced and used to service existing equipment, but not used in new products. By Jan. 1, 2020, the refrigerant may no longer be produced.
TEAMING UPFor assistance in developing products that would handle R-410A, PoolPak turned to Super Radiator Coils (SRC), a long-time supplier of condenser coils used in the manufacturer’s equipment.
The collaborative process culminated with PoolPak’s release this summer of its first units to use the refrigerant. By this fall, the company expects to be 100 percent converted to R-410A, according to Tim Sechrist, senior mechanical engineer.
“We consulted a lot with Super Radiator on our new 410A line, as to what we needed to do to modify our coil designs,” he said. “They helped us spec the right wall thicknesses for tubes used in the coils, along with the right size headers and types of connections.”
SRC manufactures the coils to those specifications and ships them to PoolPak, where each one is tested before being installed. PoolPak fully assembles all of the units for their dehumidification systems and quality checks their performance. Larger units are then disassembled into major components for shipment to customers.
Sechrist said customers will still be able to buy parts and R-22 for existing PoolPak equipment, but after Jan. 1, 2020, the company will not be able to do either. By then, any replacement of equipment that uses R-22 will be replaced with newer equipment that uses R-410A or other refrigerants.
BEYOND MONTREALHelping redesign its products to meet the Montreal Protocol wasn’t the only challenge SRC helped PoolPak solve. Nicknamed the “Coil Doctors,” SRC was instrumental in helping the company develop coils that would withstand corrosive substances called chloramines - any of various compounds containing chlorine and nitrogen.
Besides causing odor and health problems that are especially noticeable in indoor pools, chloramines are corrosive to air-handling equipment, especially condenser coils used to cool the warm, humid air and remove excess moisture. Condensation on poorly designed or unprotected condenser coils can cause them to leak and fail prematurely, leading to costly repairs and pool downtime.
“Pool dehumidifiers are very complex pieces of equipment,” Voitel explained. “They operate in warm, extremely humid environments, where chloramines have to be ventilated out. When surfaces inside a pool room get cold, condensation mixes with chloramines and creates a pretty caustic soup.”
The other condenser coils are made from steel and have a proprietary powder coating that is specially formulated to protect the metal from corrosion in high-humidity environments.
“All of the coils in our dehumidifying, cooling, and ventilating models have to be made with care, and that’s where SRC comes in,” explained Voitel. “They produce coils for most of our dehumidifying equipment, as well as refrigerant reheat coils that recover waste heat from the dehumidifying process and use it to heat the air in the pool room. In addition, they make auxiliary coils that provide additional cooling or heating to the pool room.”
COST VS. VALUE AND PERFORMANCEDehumidifier units with copper coils are about twice the cost of other coils and carry a 10-year warranty, while coated coils have a standard one-year warranty. However, as Voitel explained, when universities, indoor water parks, and hotels finance multi-million-dollar projects to build or upgrade an indoor pool facility, they generally choose dehumidifying equipment with copper coils for longer lifecycles.
Even so, the additional expense represents only a small percentage of a major project’s total cost.
Although PoolPak’s business has remained strong during the recession, the company is investigating other routes.
“We’re looking at coatings more and more, because the market is looking for cost savings,” said Voitel. “If we find they perform the same as copper in specific applications and you can save the added expense, then why use copper?”