The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the production and elimination of ozone-depleting substances (ODS). Commonly found in commercial HVAC chillers, cooling towers, heat pumps and air conditioners, these substances are being regulated and will soon be unavailable.
Those responsible for maintaining and operating buildings with HVAC systems may be asking the following questions:
1. What’s included in the phaseout?
Due to their classification as ozone-depleting substances, the phase out involves all class II HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons), the most common of which is R-22 refrigerant. Class I substances have already been phased out of production in regulations as part of the Clean Air Act, in accordance with the Montreal Protocol.
2. Is my HVAC system safe if it still contains R-22?
Yes. The refrigerant (R-22) has been used safely for years in equipment and aerosol applications. The phaseout does not make it illegal to operate equipment containing R-22 refrigerant. It is being phased out for its synthetic chemicals that contribute to ozone destruction and long-term climate change.
3. When will the phaseout take effect?
It will be illegal in the U.S. to produce or import R-22 refrigerant beginning on January 1, 2020, however some restrictions have been in place since 2010. International standards strive for a total ban on production worldwide by 2030.
4. What are my options?
After January 1, 2020, it will be illegal to produce or import R-22 refrigerant here in the U.S. After that time, it will become difficult, costly (and later impossible) to replace R-22 in older HVAC systems in need of quick service or repair. Reclaimed refrigerant may be available, but has already increased in cost and decreased in availability.
A logical first step is to take inventory of all the systems that heat or cool your facilities, and identify which (if any) are charged with R-22. Depending on the age and efficiency of your equipment, the use of alternative types of ozone-friendly refrigerants may be an option. Otherwise, system retrofits or replacements are the best solutions to ensure compliance with new EPA standards.
For more information or suggestions, read the EPA’s Information for Equipment Owners and Operators
5. Who should you turn to for help with the R-22 phaseout?
A licensed mechanical service contractor can help guide you through the R-22 phaseout. A trained service technician will advise you on the process to ensure that it is performed correctly and with minimal impact on the environment. Additionally, reputable technicians are trained on the proper methods for reclaiming refrigerant, and documenting that process in accordance with EPA standards and certifications. Doing so can help avoid fines and provide proof of eco-friendly practices.
It is important to get started early with a reliable service contractor with technicians you trust. Doing so can help you understand your facility’s refrigerant needs and assess the best course of action for your planned maintenance needs. After all, “the most important thing you can do is to maintain your unit properly. Appropriate servicing minimizes potential environmental damage and maintenance costs.”1
1 United States Environmental Protection Agency, Phasing Out HCFC Refrigerants to Protect the Ozone Layer. EPA, Washington, D.C.