ORLANDO, Fla. - Informal talk on the floor of the 2005 International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) focused on two familiar refrigerants - HCFC-22 and HFC-134a. The two were repeated topics in my informal conversations with manufacturers of equipment and refrigerants, as well as some contractors.

About R-22

Regarding R-22, equipment manufacturers are required by law to end production of units with that refrigerant as of Jan. 1, 2010. Domestic production of the R-22 refrigerant itself has to end as of Jan. 1, 2020.

But apparently any R-22 equipment manufactured before 2010 can be put into the distribution pipeline after that date. And any R-22 refrigerant manufactured before 2020 can be distributed after 2020.

Two factors do enter into the equation, and they go back to Economics 101 - supply and demand. And both of those are factors for you, the contractor, to consider.

Yes, you may be able to get R-22 units and refrigerant after the respective 2010 and 2020 dates, but for how long? If your demand outpaces the inventoried supply, that access may be short-lived.

Adding to the complexity of the issue is the fact that unitary manufacturers, who already have HFC-410A units available, will soon begin ramping up production of such equipment to be out of HCFCs by 2010. That may mean a corresponding reduction in the number of R-22 units coming off the assembly line over the next few years. Refrigerant manufacturers are already under a mandated phaseout of R-22.

The year 2015 is the so-called "crunch year" when refrigerant manufacturers sense demand overtaking supply - if not before.

Conversations with contractors revealed for the most part no plans to move from R-22 in the near future. But all the same, the industry is collectively calling for contractors to seriously investigate a move to R-410A equipment. Such equipment is now available. There is a learning curve in installation and service, but now is the time to reduce the curve.

Supplies Of R-134a

The issue at the expo concerning R-134a involved long-term and short-term supplies. A recurring phrase heard at booths of refrigerant manufacturers was, "Got any R-134a?"

Demand for that HFC has been on the rise due to the rapidly growing market in Asia, a booming automotive air conditioning sector both in the United States and Europe, and increasing interest in R-134a in the U.S. HVACR industry. Production capacity is pretty much at the maximum, with no plans to bring any new plants on line.

In the short term, there are some periodic plant disruptions, which will be corrected, but not to the extent to significantly curb the supply issue. The gist of what I heard on the show floor is that contractors should be able to get R-134a - but at what price? There could also be some spot shortages.

One Final Thought

As I was mulling over this information while walking the floor, I went past the booth of Refrigeration Research (www.refresearch.com). The company was showing two refrigerators dating from the 1930s - the Crosley Shelvador and Icy Ball.

Although not running at the expo, booth personnel said they still operated just fine back at the company's museum in Brighton, Mich. - operating because they have always been properly maintained and kept leak tight.

And that may be the best advice for contractors facing any concerns over equipment and refrigerants. Keep a system tight and running well, and you can get a lot of life out of it.

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

Publication date: 02/28/2005