Both a formal survey taken by The NEWSearlier in the year and recent anecdotal information demonstrate that contractors are talking with their customers about both R-22 supply issues and R-410A equipment and are stepping up their installation of the latter product line.
In the survey, 78 percent of those polled said that they inform customers all or most of the time about the R-22 phaseout. Then 74 percent said that all or most of the time, they tell customers that manufacturers will stop making R-22 equipment starting in January 2010.
It is expected that since that survey, those percentages have increased. In fact, for some contractors, the teaching has been going on for some time.
“We have been, for 10 years, discussing the phaseout of R-22,” said Paul DeHart of Bolster-DeHart of Pittsburgh. “We advised customers what our manufacturers told us 10 years ago, that the cost of R-22 would increase as we get closer to the 2010 date and we have seen those increases. We also have told customers the price will probably go higher after the January 2010 date.”
Rick Tullis of Capstone Mechanical of Waco, Texas, takes a somewhat different approach, “When servicing residential equipment, we only discuss the refrigerant issue when there is a possibility that a replacement is more cost effective than a repair. We wouldn’t advocate taking a functional (or repairable) R-22 unit out of service solely based upon the refrigerant issue and we don’t want to appear to be using scare tactics to force a sale.”
However, Tullis deals with non-residential customers in a different way.
“For large commercial and industrial clients, we have been more proactive by sending them letters that explain the current state of the refrigerant issue. I feel like this is a way that we can serve them. Corporations are typically slow and methodical in making decisions, so getting the right information to the right person can be a huge long term benefit for them and for me as their service provider.”
R-410AWhen it comes to installing new equipment, R-410A is climbing higher and higher on contractors’ radar screens. At the time of the survey early in the year, about 51 percent of those surveyed said they are installing R-410A equipment more than one-half the time, and that percentage appears to have increased based on anecdotal feedback.
Among those who focus on R-410A, there are those who have been doing so for a number of years. “For the last four years, we have only offered R-410A systems when installing new residential units or commercial design-build systems,” said Tullis.
“On our commercial plan-spec jobs, we always try to convince the owner to upgrade to R-410A units when the consulting engineer had specified R-22. At this point in the game, we could not in good conscious offer an R-22 system as an option. That would be a disservice to the customer from a future service cost standpoint. To me it would be like selling rotten fruit.”
DeHart concurs. “We have been selling R-410A units for 10 years and probably six years ago stopped quoting R-22 as an option.”
OTHER ALTERNATIVESOne thing is clear from the survey. Contractors are committed to serving existing R-22 equipment as long as supplies of R-22 last and will also consider HFC alternatives other than R-410A that can be retrofitted into R-22 systems.
This is reflected in the survey that showed close to 50 percent of those surveyed willing to service R-22 equipment for up to five years before suggesting a changeout to R-410A equipment. This seems to coincide with predictions of shortfalls of R-22 by around 2015. But another 7 percent said they are willing to service R-22 equipment for six to 10 years, meaning they will be looking at other HFC refrigerants for retrofits.