Honeywell recently commissioned two surveys - one of HVAC residential contractors and the other of general contractors and others involved in residential construction projects. The surveys asked about the awareness of the phaseout of virgin R-22 refrigerant, supplies of R-22 in the future, and an understanding of R-410A.

To no one's surprise, the HVAC contractors had a strong awareness of the issues. Some 98 percent appeared to be up to speed on the R-22 issues, while 95 percent understood R-410A.

But this was not the case with builders and general contractors. According to that survey, 64 percent were not aware of the R-22 phaseout, 86 percent were not aware that there could be supply issues with R-22 in the future, and 90 percent had had no dealings with R-410A.

The call to action, therefore, is simple: HVAC contractors need to inform general contractors and builders about the need to move from R-22 to R-410A in residential projects, be they tract housing or custom homes.

We've been preaching about the phaseout of R-22 for years now, noting that it is going to result in significant tightness of supplies. The general feeling is that the true crunch year is going to be 2015, when production of R-22 will be only 10 percent of 2002 levels.

That's about 10 years from now. And if you assume that a residential air conditioning unit can last 15 or more years if properly maintained, the question has to be asked now about the supplies of virgin R-22 that might be available for a retrofit application. Manufacturers who sell units with extended warranties also have to give consideration to servicing issues that could be coming halfway through the life of the unit.

The requirement that the minimum SEER rating must move from 10 to 13 by 2006 is adding to the refrigerant equation. According to David Metcalf, marketing manager for refrigerants for Honeywell, that change will mean that 40 percent more refrigerant will be needed in a typical air conditioning unit and the average footprint will need to be larger.

He said the increase in refrigerant would be the case with either R-22 or -410A. But, of course, the availability of R-410A will be much better down the road than R-22. And, in fact, while a 13-SEER unit will be larger in the future with either refrigerant, the footprint of the R-410A unit of the future should be a bit smaller than a comparable R-22 model, though it will depend on the manufacturer.

Now is the time to share this information with the general contractor. Industry manufacturers can make available selling points for 13-SEER R-410A units. You may think most often of using such information one-on-one with end users who have comfort cooling on their mind. But that same message can be taken to general contractors.

That's what you can do. But what's in it for you? How about a perception among general contractors who hire subcontractors like yourself that you really do know what's going in the HVAC sector and are ahead of the curve when it comes to changes in the future?

That has to be worth something in today's competitive marketplace.

Peter Powell is refrigeration editor. He can be reached at 847-622-7260, 847-622-7266 (fax), or

Publication date: 09/06/2004