Exploring Drop-in Refrigerant Replacements for R-22
What are refrigerant drop-ins?
Refrigerant drop-ins are refrigerants that are intended to replace your original refrigerant and keep your system running in the same way. As previously discussed, the EPA is phasing out R-22 and other HCFC refrigerants because they contribute to ozone depletion when leaked into the air.
The EPA defines a “drop-in,” as a substitute “refrigerant [that] provides exactly the same cooling, efficiency, durability, and other performance factors as the original refrigerant, with no changes to existing equipment.” Currently, there are no exact refrigerant drop-ins for R-22, but there are several that come close.
HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) refrigerants are among the suggested replacements for R-22 since they have zero impact on ozone depletion. The EPA has compiled a list of alternative refrigerants to the ozone depleting group of refrigerants and the proper applications for their use in their Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program.
What makes a system a good candidate for using a drop-in refrigerant?
- Leaking equipment, equipment low on refrigerant, or equipment needing a component replacement. Since the system is already down in these situations, it is a good time to perform the retrofit. You are able to not only fix the problem, but it also sets you up for savings by avoiding high R-22 prices and R-22 shortages in the future.
- A system that is difficult to get to or to change out all of the parts to a new system. When piping is in the walls or under floors or the system would be extremely difficult to change out to a whole new system, it might be more cost and time effective to use a drop-in refrigerant.
- Serviceable equipment with a good life expectancy. It might be more financially savvy to use a drop-in refrigerant replacement for R-22 than to replace the entire unit if it is still in good working order with a substantial life expectancy.
- When you have multiple, similar units, try one as a test. When you have multiple units of the same equipment in your building, it can be advantageous to start with one of those units and do the refrigerant drop-in. This will allow you to see how it functions with that equipment and in your environment giving you better feedback to decide whether it makes sense both financially and operationally to do the change out on the rest of the units in your building.
What is the trade-off of using an R-22 drop-in replacement?
There are advantages and disadvantages to using a drop-in. When you replace R-22 with an HFC refrigerant you are making a decision that is better for the ozone. However, when you introduce a refrigerant that the system was not built for, you can lose some efficiency. The efficiency loss can range depending on your system and the replacement refrigerant used.
What are the benefits of using a drop-in?
- Avoid problems resulting from R-22 shortages.
- Avoid fluctuating and spiking prices of R-22.
- Eliminate risks for HCFC leak reporting and fines.
- Avoid cost of full equipment replacement.
- If you have multiple systems, you can use the refrigerant recovered from the change-out to service your other units to help lower the amount you spend on R-22.
What does this process look like?
The process depends slightly on the refrigerant chosen. During all refrigerant change outs, the R-22 refrigerant is first recovered. Then several elements are often replaced which could include elastomeric seals, filter driers, oil, and/or metering devices. Then the equipment is charged with the new drop-in refrigerant. Finally, the system is tested and adjusted to make sure that it is running properly.
Refrigerant manufacturers are a great resource during this whole process. They can help in deciding which refrigerant to choose for your system and also helping to make sure things run smoothly during the actual change out.
Drop-in refrigerant replacements for R-22 may be a good step in the R-22 phase out plan for your building. If you need some help determining the best place to start, feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help you find and evaluate the necessary resources to make the best decision for your building or system.
Join us next week as we explore the question, Should I replace my R-22 Equipment?