Sheet metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association

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Refrigerant phase-outs on the horizon: How to prepare

 

The world of refrigerants is a complex landscape. With contractors on the front line, staying informed about what’s coming will help ensure you are offering your customers the best approach to safety and efficiency.

While refrigerant policies may shift with the new administration, these facts are certain:

1) Hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants are being phased out. Production of new R123 chillers ends on Jan. 1, 2020, and production of new R22 ends for servicing existing equipment on Jan. 1, 2020.

  • Alternatives for R123 are available today. R1233zd is used in low pressure chillers, and is an A1 refrigerant with essentially zero ODP and low GWP. However, it is not a drop in for R123; R1233zd requires higher pressures and operates at a different volumetric capacity than R123.
  • Alternatives for R22 are available. Check with the equipment manufacturer for retrofit considerations such as compatibility for the specific alternative refrigerant. Follow requirements in codes and standards, such as not mixing refrigerants in a system, and properly marking equipment with the new refrigerant designation.
  • R514A has been identified as the best retrofit alternative for R123. But again, the equipment will require changes to operate with R514A. R514A carries the same undesirable higher toxicity “B” designation as R123 (as defined by ASHRAE Standard 34). R514A will also reduce the capacity of an existing R123 machine.

2) Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant phase downs have been proposed, but no regulations are currently in place in the US.

  • Refrigerants R410A and R134a are de-listed for use (under the U.S. EPA SNAP Program) in new chillers in the U.S., effective Jan. 1, 2024. Because they will continue to be used in rooftops and to service existing HVAC equipment, no change in the availability is expected for R134a or R410A for applied, residential, light commercial, and VRV products until 2029 at the earliest. In fact, R134a is a major ingredient in many alternative refrigerant blends, including R513A and R513B.
  • R1234ze has the potential to be an alternative for R134a, and R32 has the potential to be an alternative for R410A. Both are A2L refrigerants and need to be approved in product safety standards and building codes before they can be adopted. It is anticipated the model building codes will adopt the “2L” category in the 2021 editions.
  • The phase down of HFCs is likely and has been proposed in an amendment to the Montreal Protocol. However, it will require approval by the new Administration to take effect in the United States and is unlikely to have a significant impact on chillers and rooftops for the next five years, while A2L refrigerants are going through the approval process.
  • Because the regulation and policies are still being formed, R134a, R410A and R1233zd are the best choices in new chiller applications today and for the next five years. They are available, provide the best value, are efficient, and most important, they are safe. Further, R134a and R410A present no risk, as they are both well-vetted and well-accepted.

What’s different about A2Ls?

Most of us haven’t worked with refrigerants in this A2L category. However, A2L refrigerants are available in numerous countries around the world and already used in building applications.

Because they are classified as “lower flammability,” the United States is taking extra precautions to ensure their safe application. Like current A1 refrigerants, they are also classified as “lower toxicity,” so this has not changed.

What is happening with the building codes?

Because of these differences, A2Ls are being rigorously tested to ensure they are appropriately adopted into building codes and product safety standards, and training programs and handling procedures are well established. The HVAC equipment industry is expecting these changes to be approved by 2021.The code process is in place to protect us all, so using the approved and safe A1 refrigerants like R410A and R134a for the next five years is the most prudent course of action.

Some of the changes you might expect beyond servicing and safety protocol:

  • Specifications for sources and quantities of ventilation air
  • Specifications for refrigerant detectors, including reliability, sensor locations, installation, use, and response time
  • Oils for new refrigerants are changing also. Whereas older equipment with HCFCs typically used mineral oils, replacement HFCs and HFOs (tetrafluoropropenes) typically use polyolester (POE) oils. POE oils have slightly higher auto-ignition temperatures than mineral oils.

The International Code Council (ICC www.iccsafe.org) and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO www.iapmo.org) are responsible for the development of codes and standards used in building design and construction to protect all the building stakeholders and their communities. Then each state will adopt the model code or templates, and may modify it for use in their municipalities. The development and adoption of these codes simply takes time.

Best ways to prepare:

There is no reason today to jump the gun. R134a, R410A, and R1233zd are approved, safe, efficient, and available recommendations for use in new and existing equipment today. But stay informed. Get updates on safety standards and codes from these sources:

  • Learn more about the timing and development of building codes from the ICC and the IAPMO
  • Read about ASHRAE Standards 15 and 34, the standards for refrigerant classification, safety codes for mechanical refrigeration, and refrigerant retrofit requirements on the ASHRAE website under Resources and Publications.
  • Speak directly to a manufacturer representative who is skilled at specifying and servicing refrigerant equipment every day: www.daikinapplied.com/sales.php

(Editor’s note: This article was written by David Hayman, manager of environmental health and safety, Daikin Applied, and Rusty Tharp, director of regulatory affairs, Goodman Manufacturing. Daikin Applied is a SMACNA Premier Partner.)