Peter Powell

I’m not sure if Agatha Christie with her complicated plots or Perry Mason with his ‘the audience can spot the guilty guy five minutes into the show’ plots should be called upon to solve one of the more interesting mysteries currently taking place in the HVACR industry.

Here’s the plot: Many, many in our industry are seriously concerned about the small amount of refrigerant, particularly R-22, coming back for reclamation. It is something The NEWShas been writing about for close to a year now.

Initial concern revolved around assurance of the purity of refrigerant removed from a system before it was reused. On-site recycling equipment may help in addressing the purity issue, but only by having the refrigerant tested and cleaned in a certified reclamation facility can the purity be ensured.

Now the concern is based on long-term supplies. The industry and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been doing a lot of number crunching and calculating about supplies of R-22. To allow enough of that refrigerant to service R-22 equipment for the normal life of that equipment, those folks say about 50 percent of all R-22 recovered needs to come back for reclaim. The best guess now is that less than 10 percent is coming back.

The question therefore is what is happening to the other 90 percent. Is it being just recovered on site and reintroduced to the system? But does that address the fact that an awful lot of virgin R-22 is still being purchased - a lot more than the industry thought would be purchased at this time? If a contractor is purchasing virgin R-22 - and let’s says business is not expanding at the pace of purchases - where is the new R-22 going? If it is replacing old R-22 in a system, what is happening to the old R-22? Is it being stockpiled?

Or - and here is the dirty little secret in our mystery - is R-22 being vented?

A POSTING

Earlier this month we posted a few questions on the “Survey Says” section ofThe NEWSWebsite:

• Do you bring recovered R-22 back for reclaim services?

• If so, describe the process and your thoughts on how well it works or how it might be improved.

• If not, what is preventing you from doing so?

As you can see, we didn’t asking about venting. The main purpose was to find out what roadblocks were preventing contractors from bringing more refrigerant back for reclaim. We even offered to keep responses anonymous for the sake of candor.

But as it was, the dozen or so responders all said they were using reclamation facilities. For that, we congratulate those doing so. But they apparently represent a small, small minority in our industry.

SinceThe NEWShas been doing so many stories on the reclaim issue, we did get a rather lengthy comment on a story from late last year. The comment came from a technical manager at an equipment manufacturer. Some of his views are interesting.

“I am a regional technical manager for an equipment manufacturer. I am in contact with contractors and their technicians on a daily basis. Some are recovering and turning in refrigerant, but few (are). I have been told that they reuse the refrigerant on other jobs. “While on field calls with the technicians, I ask them if they have a recovery bottle or recovery machine, the answer most of the time is no. After asking why, they say that the ‘boss’ only has a few machines and they are shared throughout the company.

We both know what that means. I have had technicians tell me that after recovering refrigerant, they take the bottle back to the shop and vent it there. The solution to the problem is simple.”

Well, there’s that ugly ‘V’ word being used again.

This commenter then said, “EPA needs to pass a national law that requires a quarterly report be filed on how much refrigerant was purchased, added to leaking systems and recovered. Companies would also submit a report from the distributor showing how much refrigerant was returned. This would solve the majority of the venting of refrigerant and make more available. To handle the paperwork from the government’s standpoint, the contractor would be required to fill out an EPA worksheet, with documentation and pay a quarterly fee for reviewing and processing.

“EPA should pick several major cities and start a minimal enforcement of residential contractors to get their attention. Just a hint to show that enforcement is starting.”

This is calling upon the government to get involved. From what I’m hearing, many in our industry would prefer to regulate itself by stressing reclamation has a practical approach to supply issues and will prove to be more cost effective as costs of virgin R-22 continues to rise.

So the real mystery now is which will come first: the industry policing itself better or the government trying to do it for us?

Publication date:03/31/2008