So, the debate-worthy topic of global warming has finally reached the toolboxes and service vans of contractors.

Global warming — as it used to be called — goes back some 30 years, when the HVACR industry faced concerns about ozone-depleting refrigerants by phasing out the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). But it ended up that the alternatives — hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) — had high global warming potential (GWP). Or, at least a number of the most frequently used HFCs did.

First, furor over global warming revolved around whether it was real or not. A Wizard of ID comic summed it with the town crier proclaiming it was going to be unseasonably warm one day, which caused a second character to admit this was proof global warming was real. But the crier quickly noted a cold front would follow, causing yet another character to claim the climate is actually cooling. A fight ensued, causing the crier to sigh, “I miss the old days before weather patterns were political.”

In recent years, the furor increased when Rush Limbaugh chimed in against the reality of global warming.

But, almost universally now, those in the scientific community — and, perhaps most importantly, the regulatory sector — are expressing concern over what is now being called climate change.

That’s not a good thing, they say. And, as far as the HVACR sector is concerned, high-GWP HFCs are unfavorably contributing to this climate change by leaking into the atmosphere.

For some time, all of this was somewhat interesting to contractors, including those working with such familiar HFCs as -134a, -404A, and -507 on the refrigeration side.

But now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is looking to finalize a proposal it made this summer to basically prohibit these, and a number of other, high-GWP HFCs in a lot of refrigeration equipment made in 2016 and thereafter. For contractors, especially those in the food service sector, if you are involved in servicing equipment for a store that came online after Jan. 1, 2016, you are not going to be able to use -134a, -404a, -507, or a number of other HFCs.

There are already low-GWP alternatives to the high-GWP refrigerants being used in stores. Some stores are using transcritical systems running on CO2, and other supermarkets are using ammonia, hydrocarbon (HC), or propane-fueled refrigeration systems. Expect all of these approaches to gain favor if the EPA proposal becomes a done deal.

If you are unsure about any of the above, now is the time to start learning more about these approaches. For stores online before 2016, you can still use -134a, -404a, and -507. But, eventually, all of these stores will be decommissioned as the supermarket industry moves away from the old and embraces the new at a faster pace than any other sector.

Finally, those of you in the air conditioning sector should not be content with your HFC-410A. While the action right now is more on the refrigeration side, there remains a global push from a number of advocacy groups to do away with all HFCs and move to so-called natural refrigerants like ammonia, CO2 and HCs, which have no GWP. Talks are ongoing and are not going to abruptly stop.H

In some ways, supporters of HFCs are building cases by conceding the concern about the high-GWP fluids while promoting low-GWP HFCs as economical and practical solutions. But, how long can they hold their ground? The answer is uncertain. The EPA seems to base its actions on the availability of acceptable alternatives. So, if an “acceptable alternative” to -410A surfaces, air conditioning contractors may find themselves in the same situation the refrigeration folks are in. Stay tuned.

Publication date: 10/20/2014

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