When changes occur in the HVACR industry, contractors routinely look to their trade associations for information. That has definitely been the case with the impending phaseout of R-22 and the adoption of R-410A. Contractors have asked their associations, including Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), and Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA), for training on how to use the new refrigerant, as well as updates on late-breaking government regulations.
The trade associations have been happy to comply, providing copious amounts of information that includes e-mail updates, seminars, and Webinars on how to use R-410A and training materials and books for technicians. Contractors who haven’t yet made the transition to R-410A should consider contacting their trade association as soon as possible to see what types of training are available either online or in their area.
ACCA ASSISTS MEMBERSACCA has been talking about the R-410A transition for quite awhile. In fact, over five years ago, the group started offering its members an online consumer brochure that discusses the changes in refrigerant, and since 2001, ACCA has had workshops on the transition to R-410A at its annual meetings.
“We have been talking frequently about the transition in our member communications, especially regarding the proposed final rules from EPA [Environmental Protection Agency],” said Kevin Holland, vice president of business operations and membership, ACCA.
“We also conducted a Webinar on R-410A on June 30 that was archived online for subscribers to our Comfort U on-demand training program. We will likely be producing other Webinars as needed on various facets of R-410A, including the ongoing concern for contractors to continually guard against cross-contamination and to keep in mind the slightly different servicing requirements for R-410A.”
The proposed final rules from EPA have been keeping Charlie McCrudden, vice president of government relations, ACCA, very busy. As he noted, EPA had been delayed in promulgating the rules that state the United States is to (1) reduce the amount of HCFC refrigerants (including R-22) to be produced and consumed after Jan. 1, 2010, and (2) ban the use of virgin HCFCs in equipment manufactured after Jan. 1, 2010.
EPA held a hearing on the two rules on Jan. 7, 2009, and on Jan. 14, 2009, the agency published a Fact Sheet clarifying the intent of the two rules and how they would allow stockpiling of parts pre-charged with virgin HCFC for repair but not new installations. “The entire industry assumed that EPA would ban the manufacture of this equipment after January 1, 2010, but allow the sale of stockpiled equipment after that date,” said McCrudden. “Instead, EPA proposed to ban the sale for installation as new any equipment pre-charged with virgin HCFCs. This meant that stockpiled equipment would have been rendered illegal and worthless.”
EPA’s Fact Sheet clarified that equipment could be stockpiled for repair but this equipment could not be installed as new. “EPA did not write a clear rule, and it caused a lot of confusion,” said McCrudden. “Unfortunately, there are still contractors and distributors with questions about the rules and how they work. We will continue to report on the HCFC rules, as EPA has not published the final rules yet, and they are to take effect Jan. 1, 2010.”
ACCA requested that EPA publish the final rules before June 1, 2009, in order to give the industry adequate time to digest and implement them.
However, off-the-record conversations with EPA officials point to the probability that the rules will not be released before late summer/early fall, which means McCrudden will be following this story and reporting back to members for the next few months. He will also be closely monitoring the current global warming and climate change bill to see how that affects R-410A.
“R-410A is an HFC, which is not covered under the Clean Air Act or Section 608,” said McCrudden. “However, the current global warming and climate change bill proposes to create a new section to treat HFC refrigerants under Title VI of the Clean Air Act. The bill also proposes to phase out the production and use of HFC refrigerants between 2012 and 2040.”
Even though the majority of ACCA members are prepared for the transition to R-410A - indeed, many have been selling this equipment for many years now, said Glenn Hourahan, ACCA’s vice president of research and technology - members will want to stay tuned to find out what happens next in the continuing story regarding R-410A.
RSES TACKLES TRAININGRSES has also been very cognizant of the refrigerant transition and has been making the industry aware of the R-22 phaseout since 1991, when it began actively conducting “Proper Refrigerant Usage” training. Regarding R-410A specifically, RSES has been actively addressing the issue directly to its membership through the dissemination of technical bulletins, articles in the RSES Journal magazine, as well as conducting training seminars and focused sessions during annual conferences.
Mark Lowry, executive vice president, RSES, noted that members are most interested in the safety aspects of working with R-410A, due to the fact that systems containing this HFC operate at much higher pressures than what is typically seen in the field when servicing R-22 systems. “In addition, because many manufacturers have restricted the sales of systems containing R-410A to individuals who have attended an R-410A training course, we receive a high volume of inquiries for this training.”
To meet that demand for training, RSES will be conducting Webinars to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to receive training and the needed information to safely work with R-410A systems. These Webinars will be in addition to the training programs already being conducted through local RSES chapters.
Due to the extensive amount of training offered over a considerable period of time, Lowry stated that the majority of the RSES membership is prepared and ready for the R-22 phaseout. “The greater concern is for the industry as a whole and ensuring that the entire technician population has received the necessary information and training to properly service and maintain the systems containing R-410A. Lingering concerns include the growing uncertainty of HFCs overall, and the increased attention now being focused on whether they truly are the best refrigerant to shift to in the long term.”
Even though the need for education and training for R-410A will most likely decrease over the next few years, Lowry stated that RSES will continue to offer training curriculum that will be adjusted to focus on R-410A as well as other hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants.
“We will continue to discuss the phaseout as long as people have questions. Those questions might include, ‘What if HFCs’ high global warming potential (GWP) continues to drive exploration of yet further refrigerant development?’ RSES will continue to foster discussion amongst and beyond its members to ensure as much of the installation, service, and maintenance professional workforce is informed as possible.”
MSCA MEMBERS TAKE CLASSMSCA has encouraged its members to learn about R-410A through the classes taught by the United Associations (UA) of Plumbers, Pipefitters, and HVAC Mechanics. Dana Shanower, training director, Local 94, Canton, Ohio, started teaching classes on R-410A about seven years ago. “The name of the course is ‘R-410A Safety and Training,’ and it’s a 20-hour class. We focus on safety aspects since there is a big pressure difference between R-410A and R-22.”
The higher pressure of R-410A is usually a concern that comes up in class, said Shanower. “From a safety standpoint, contractors and technicians want to know how they go about handling these higher pressures. They also want to know about the tools involved because a completely different set of tools is needed to handle R-410A. There are always a lot of questions on the oils, too, because R-410A uses a different oil than R-22 systems.”
Shanower doesn’t just field questions from contractors and technicians taking his class, he receives regular phone calls from industry professionals around the country about the refrigerant transition. “People want to know what will happen when they can’t buy R-22 anymore, and there are still quite a few questions out there revolving around R-410A. The UA is all about training and education, so I don’t mind taking phone calls or helping people out.”
Even after the phaseout of R-22, Shanower believes there will still be a need for classes on R-410A. As he noted, the HVACR contractor population is aging, so new people coming into the industry will still need to learn about R-410A. “And who’s to say there won’t be a new refrigerant that proves to be better than R-410A. And if there is, the UA will be the first group out there training on it. But for now, the big kid on the block is R-410A.”
Speaking of the future of refrigerants, MSCA will be offering a special session on this exact topic at its annual conference, held Oct. 18-21, 2009, in Bonita Springs, Fla. Experts from DuPont will provide an update on exactly what is happening in the world of refrigerants and what contractors and customers need to know about this very important issue.