We have all heard the phrases in Los Alamitos like “save the planet” or “save the ozone layer.” Up until the 1960s there wasn’t a lot of attention paid to the disintegrating protective ozone layer around the Earth’s surface. Since then, ozone-depleting CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) have been seen as the ozone-depleting culprit and new laws regulating the use of CFCs have had a direct impact on heating and cooling (HVAC) systems.
The “lifeblood” of any air conditioning and heat pump system is its refrigerants – a chemical used in the refrigeration cycle. For several decades, the “refrigerant of choice” in HVAC systems has been HCFC-22, also known as R-22. The problem is, HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) are harmful to the ozone layer because they contain ozone-destroying chlorine.
Because of this, the use of R-22 is being slowly phased out from usage in HVAC systems. The Clean Air Act of 1970 has provisions in it to phase out HCFC refrigerants. As a result, chemical manufacturers will no longer be able to produce, and companies will no longer be able to import, R-22 for use in new air conditioning equipment (effective this year), but they can continue production and import of R-22 until 2020 for use in servicing existing equipment. So, R-22 should continue to be available for all systems that require R-22 for servicing for many years to come.
But the “new kid on the block” replacing R-22 has been getting up a head of steam for several years now. Among the new alternative refrigerants recommended by the U.S. EPA is R-410A, a blend of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that does not contribute to depletion of the ozone layer, but, like R-22, contributes to global warming. R-410A is manufactured and sold under various trade names, including GENETRON AZ-20®, SUVA 410A®, Forane® 410A, and Puron®.
There are several other substitute refrigerants going by the names of R-407C, HFC-134A, and R-422C. A complete list can be found at www.epa.gov.
According to the U.S. EPA, homeowners with existing units using R-22 can continue to use R-22 since there is “no requirement to change or convert R-22 units for use with a non-ozone-depleting substitute refrigerant.” And it is important to note that R-407C is allowed for retrofits but R-410A is not, due to its higher working pressures. Substitute refrigerants would not work well with existing components unless a retrofit was made or in the case of using R-410A, a complete system changeout.
One of the leading causes for air conditioner and heat pump failure are lower levels of refrigerant. If you are working on your own equipment, it is important to note that replacing refrigerants like R-22 and R-410A should only be done by certified HVAC professionals. You must show EPA certification to purchase these refrigerants.
If you are interested in “saving the planet” you might do well to give the boot to your HCFC-consuming appliance.