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Refrigerant Shortage Looms

According to chemical manufacturer DuPont, the main refrigerant used in residential air conditioning systems may be in short supply as soon as 2010. The recent Montreal Protocol changes and an updated look at supply-demand scenarios reveal that supplies in 2010 may be much tighter than originally anticipated, including the possibility that virgin R-22 supplies may be short; therefore, it is apparent that the industry must dramatically increase recovery of HCFCs in order to compensate for the shortfall expected as early as 2010, claims Kevin P. O’Shea, the North American marketing manager for DuPont Refrigerants.

It’s All About The Ozone
The Montreal Protocol that O’Shea references is an international treaty enacted in 1987 and amended several times afterwards. It specifies the phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are ozone depleting refrigerants. In 1996, the Montreal Protocol was amended to include hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which are less damaging to the ozone, but still contain chlorine. R-22, the main refrigerant used in residential air conditioning systems, is an HCFC. After 2009, residential air conditioning manufacturers will only be able to use pre-existing supplies of R-22 in new equipment. Manufacturers will still be able to produce R-22 for servicing existing systems, but the production quantities will be dramatically reduced. After next year, the production will be limited to 25% of the 1996 production levels. It was projected that the existing stock of R-22, combined with limited production would be sufficient for servicing existing systems. This assumed that contractors were diligent about recovering, reclaiming, and recycling refrigerant. In years past, R-22 was so inexpensive, that technicians simply vented it to the atmosphere when servicing equipment and replaced it with new refrigerant. Not only is that expensive today, it’s illegal. There are steep fines for venting R-22. Yet, some contractors must be venting because the stock of recycled R-22 is below projections. For the record, YOUR COMPANY technicians always recover and reclaim refrigerant. It’s irresponsible to do otherwise.

How A Shortage Impacts You
The looming shortage does not mean we will run out of refrigerant in the near term. It means that prices will increase until demand balances supply. In other words, R-22 will still be available, but it will be expensive. This won’t affect you unless your air conditioner leaks. It shouldn’t. Air conditioning systems are closed loop systems. Absent leaks, they will not require additional refrigerant. You should not need to “fill up” the air conditioner with refrigerant every year.

Preventing Leaks
Air conditioners are mechanical systems. To operate efficiently, they require maintenance. The same maintenance will also reduce the possibility that your air conditioner will develop a refrigerant leak. If you have not had your air conditioner tuned-up this year, schedule it right away. You will save more on utilities from a well-running air conditioner than you will spend on the tune-up. Even well-maintained systems can develop leaks from time to time. These should be fixed immediately. Refrigerant leaks will not only hurt the ozone layer, they will hurt your wallet. If the leak cannot be fixed, the air conditioner should be replaced with one of the new models that uses an alternative refrigerant.

Alternative Refrigerants
The air conditioning industry has settled on R-410a as a replacement for R-22. It’s a good refrigerant, but is incompatible with R-22. We cannot simply substitute it for R-22. The entire system must be replaced. The new R-410a air conditioners operate under higher pressures, which means special training is required to install and service them (all of our technicians have received this training). You might be surprised how efficient these air conditioners are. If your air conditioning system is more than 15 years old, it’s possible that we can cut your cooling costs in half with one of these new systems. Call us at YourNumber and we’ll prepare a complimentary analysis showing how much you can save. We can also improve your indoor air quality and solve any comfort problems (e.g., one room is always too hot or cold).