When my wife and I became empty nesters this spring, we decided to downsize and move a bit beyond the Chicago metropolitan area. We settled on a town in north central Illinois, just a few miles from the Wisconsin border. This resulted in some interesting dynamics. Suddenly a die-hard Bears fan was in mixed Bears-Packers country (with seemingly little interest in the Cubs or Brewers and even less interest in the White Sox, the latter a good thing for us Cubs fans).

The other dynamic may have related to the subdivision where we purchased the new home, but air conditioning came as an option - an option we quickly took. I guess folks this close to the Wisconsin border consider themselves hardy folks unwilling to automatically accept any sort of mechanical comfort.

The house did come with a furnace, and I'm sure those Packer fans who sit shirtless at Lambeau Field in Green Bay in December consider that a totally unnecessary luxury. But while my wife and I do cross-country ski in the winter, it is done only with the knowledge that we will be able to get to a warm home after the insanity of what we are doing ends.

In purchasing the air conditioner option, the realtor began to tell us that this is one of those new 13 SEER units, but I respectively asked to take a pass on the explanation since I was pretty much on 13 SEER overload at that time having been following the topic closely for some time.

The unit installed at the house uses HCFC-22 as refrigerant rather than HFC-410A, and therein lies a story that is indicative of what's been happening in the HVAC industry.

Those who have been following changes on the air conditioning side know that R-22 is facing an end for use in new equipment come 2010. Manufacturers were moving to a rather rapid conversion to R-410A when federal mandates to go from 10 SEER to minimum 13 SEER came a bit quicker than expected. The phaseout of R-22 was slowed down a bit, thus a preponderance still of 13 SEER with R-22.

All this puts me in an interesting position. For, I will be among the early adopters who find out how well these "new-fangled" 13 SEER units work. And I could well find out how adequate supplies of R-22 really are, should the unit unexpectedly spring a leak.

So far so good with the air conditioner that had been running fairly full out during some unusually long spells (for north central Illinois) of heat and humidity during the summer. About a month after it was put in, the installing contractor sent a service tech to check out both the furnace and air conditioner. The technician happened to be a woman who has been in the industry for more than 20 years including a long spell in the refrigeration sector - and who quickly turned down any request that she be the subject of a feature in an upcoming issue of The NEWS. She wasn't interested, she said; at just about the time I was figuring such a feature would almost end up a bit of a cliché anyhow.

But back to the more important issue: My comfort.

Should said air conditioner develop any glitches due to the "new technology" needed for the higher SEER or the fact that it was using an old, possibly hard-to-find refrigerant, my wife and I do have a plan B. You see, we also bicycle and canoe in the summer and rely on an air conditioned house in order to recover after we regain our senses. In case we are air conditionless at home, we have already lined up ‘watering holes' near bike paths and along the river in which to seek temporary shelter - which we will do even if a Packers game is on the big screen.

Publication date: 09/04/2006