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2022 Refrigerant Regulations: Making Sense of it All!

The HVAC/R field is abuzz with chatter about the new AIM/EPA regulations being implemented this year (2022). Thanks to the guidelines being written exclusively in scientific terminology, and vague standards, let's face it...

WE HAVE QUESTIONS! So, I decided to document those questions we all have about what this means for our trade, and answer them in a form of English we all can understand...Hope it helps!

The first common misconception I'd like to address is that the AIM is regulating REFRIGERANTS specifically. This is not the case. The AIM's job in this situation is to regulate the use of HFC's in general and to set target timelines through the EPA for their phase outs. For those of you who may not understand the need for phase outs, let me back up and break down the issue.

Refrigerants once contained chlorine. That's right we, a civilized nation actually used primarily CFC's(Chlorofluorocarbons) like R12, and HCFC's (Hydrochlorofluorocarbons) like R22 in cooling applications from around 1928, when GM started using CFC's in commercial refrigerators, through 2020 and still maintain HCFC systems today!

The problem with that is for every chlorine molecule released from your system to the atmosphere, up to 100,000 ozone molecules are destroyed forever! When we realized that these refrigerants were causing MAJOR depletion of our Ozone layer (I mean, we kind of need that, right?), we began to create new refrigerants that were less harmful, and phase out those that contained chlorine. Though HCFC's were marginally less destructive than CFC's, the problem persisted causing a ban of the manufacturing of HCFC's as well in 2020. This action brought forth HFC's (Hydrofluorocarbons) which do not contain chlorine and are not harmful to the Ozone layer, however still have plenty of global warming potential (GWP) which means they are still harmful to our atmosphere, and cause climate change (think greenhouse gasses).

Now that we're caught up on that, we can begin to understand why these new regulations being implemented in 2022, are a little less scary than they sound. One reason being, the phasing out of refrigerants with a GWP of 151 or higher, only pertains to new equipment (for now) with 50lbs of refrigerant or more, so existing systems that use these refrigerants will stay in use until retrofit or replacement is needed, and we as techs may still maintain them using leftover refrigerant stock. A great example of this would be the phase out of HCFC's in 2020, yet our ability to maintain and service R22 systems remains until supply runs out, or the system springs a leak, at which point we retrofit or replace and leave the old light green jug behind.

On the bright side, many manufacturers will be switching to organic refrigerants (refrigerants that already occur in our atmosphere naturally) such as R290, R744, and R717. These have extremely low GWP's and will likely never need to be phased out, so using them is the best possible choice for everyone.

The new regulations also hold large chain stores (such as supermarkets) accountable for their footprint, by forcing them to maintain a weighted average GWP of 2,500 or less by 2026! This little rule alone significantly and positively effects our atmosphere. Picture 20 or more stores, most with at least one leaky system, and the substance they're leaking is heating up the Earth. Now multiply that by all chain markets with 20 or more stores. Yea, that's a lot of potential for global warming! The new regulations will combat that and give our world a much less hazy future. In summary, these new guidelines may create a bit more chaos in an already chaotic industry, one that has already been hit by a Mack truck the last few years since the pandemic hit, but the fact remains that we only get one Earth, and she's been good to us. Time for us 'supertechs' to return the favor.

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