Do You Have an R-22 Phase Out Action Plan?
While R-22 phase out may seem like old news to some, it is a lingering presence for building owners and engineers that have systems currently running on R-22 refrigerant.
Under the U.S. Clean Air Act, virgin R-22 refrigerant is scheduled to be phased out by 2020 because of its detrimental effects to our environment. Since 2010, R-22 is no longer used in any new air conditioning or refrigeration equipment. R-22, however, is still being produced and imported until 2020 to service existing units at a decreasing rate every year. Earlier this year, the EPA proposed speeding up that phase out by lowering production caps even more because they had yet to see enough reduction in the use of R-22 or an increase in R-22 recovery and recycling. This is their way of calling us to action.
So while you can still use R-22 after 2020, there will be no new refrigerant added to the market, only the supply at that time will be available. Therefore, although you probably will be able to get your hands on R-22 through 2020, you should consider how that is going to affect your operational costs.
First, we look at the economic results of supply and demand. We know the supply of R-22 will decrease, that is a given. If the demand remains steady or drops at a much slower rate than the supply because R-22 consumers are slow to make the transition, the demand will be higher than the supply. The result, high prices for R-22. Earlier this year when there was a threat of reducing the production rates of R-22, prices sky rocketed. While the price of R-22 will probably fluctuate some throughout the phase-out period, you could avoid the potential high prices by following an action plan to phase out R-22 from your building.
Second, as the R-22 supply begins to decrease, it will probably become more difficult to obtain it. Shorter supplies can mean longer lead times to find and acquire a sufficient amount of R-22 to repair your equipment and consequently more down time. And of course, longer downtime can mean employee or tenant discomfort leading to loss in productivity.
If you do not already have an action plan in place, it is time to create one.
First things first, evaluate your equipment. How many units do you have running on R-22 or R-22 mixtures? How old is each unit? And even more pertinent, what is the life expectancy of each unit? Are they being properly maintained so that it is likely they will reach that life expectancy?
Now that you have a better idea of the condition of your equipment you can start to determine the best refrigerant replacement method and devise a time table and budget. Older equipment with habitual issues should probably be replaced first, while newer equipment or leaking equipment may be candidates for drop-in refrigerant. As equipment or refrigerant change outs occur and R-22 is reclaimed, it can be recycled and used in your other R-22 units.