In today’s world, it would be very difficult to live without air conditioning and refrigeration, let alone run a business. But the refrigerants these systems use to preserve our food and keep us cool are doing just the opposite to our planet. When leaked into the atmosphere, older refrigerants like freon cause depletion of the ozone layer, and newer refrigerants called F-gases contribute to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
As long as these chemicals stay where they belong, inside your cooling equipment, there is no cause for alarm. The problem comes in when the systems develop slow leaks, or are serviced by technicians who don’t use the right equipment and techniques for working with refrigerants.
As a facilities manager, it’s your job to ensure the safe handling of refrigerants in your building. You could face hefty fines if found to be in violation of the EPA’s Clean Air Act. And as global warming increasingly wreaks havoc on the climate, our grandchildren will pay a much higher price.
The Problem with F Gases
The dangers of refrigerants have been known for decades. The industry standard for many years was freon (also known as R22), a hydrochlorofluorocarbon gas, or HCFC. Back in the 1970’s it was discovered that HCFC gases were quickly depleting the Earth’s ozone layer, and an international treaty called the Montreal Protocol called for a worldwide phase-out of these types of refrigerants.
In the 1990’s, new refrigerants called fluorinated gases, or F-gases were developed to replace HCFC refrigerants. While these new refrigerants are non-flammable, recyclable, energy efficient and less damaging to the ozone layer, it turns out that they are the worst and longest lasting type of greenhouse gas. F-gases hang around in the atmosphere for hundreds and even thousands of years, intensifying and speeding up the process of global warming. According to the EPA, emissions of these new refrigerants have increased by 310% since 1990 and are expected to continue to increase as demands for refrigeration grow.
Are You in Compliance with Regulations?
In 2014, the European Union passed regulations to phase out the use of F-gases in commercial refrigeration and other sectors by 2022. While the US has not yet required phase-out of F-gases, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations require the following to prevent the release of refrigerants into the atmosphere:
- Leak repair. Substantial leaks in a system with more than 50 pounds of refrigerant charge are required by law to be repaired. You should also be aware that the owner of the system is responsible for any violations, not the service provider.
- Record keeping. Owners or operators of refrigeration equipment with more than 50 pounds of refrigerant must keep dated records of any service performed and any refrigerant added to the system.
- Safe disposal. Discarded air conditioners and refrigerators cannot be dumped at a landfill. Before dismantling an old system, the refrigerant must be removed according to EPA regulations.
- Reclamation and recycling of refrigerants. When servicing air conditioning or refrigeration equipment, refrigerant gases cannot be vented into the air. Technicians must use specialized, EPA-approved equipment and procedures to capture the gases, and recycle when possible.
Since you’re responsible for the consequences, it’s important to be aware of these regulations and how they affect you and your building. The EPA does random inspections and responds to tips and reports from the public, and can assess fines of up to $37,500 per day for violations of these regulations. To learn more, go to Complying With the Section 608 Refrigerant Recycling Rule.
Protect Yourself and the Planet: Use a Certified HVAC-R Service Provider
By law, technicians who may handle refrigerant when servicing air conditioners and refrigeration equipment must be EPA 608 certified. This means they have completed an educational program and passed a certification exam. There are several types of EPA certification:
- Type I Certification – for small appliances (5 lbs or less of refrigerant)
- Type II Certification – for medium, high and very-high pressure appliances.
- Type III Certification – for low-pressure appliances.
- Universal Certification – for all appliances (this means someone who possesses Type I, Type II and Type III Certifications)
Make sure your service provider keeps up with changes in the regulations. For example, the EPA is considering a proposed change that would lower the threshold for leak repair and record keeping. You should also make sure your HVAC-R service provider uses EPA-approved refrigeration handling equipment when working in your building.
At Arista, all technicians have Universal Certification, which allows them to work on all types of equipment. They also hold MSCA Star Certification, one of the most respected certifications in the industry, awarded to outstanding contractors who have demonstrated industry-leading practices in safety and training. This certification needs to be renewed every 5 years.
“We are constantly monitoring and staying abreast of changes within the industry as it relates to the laws, regulations and production of refrigerants,” says Michael Rosone, Director of Service Sales at Arista. “Our sensitivity to the environment coupled with our desire to be responsible corporate citizens further drives us to be on top of this always changing issue.”
If you’re looking to transition to a service provider experienced with refrigerants, or you’re unhappy with your current service, download a copy of our white paper, Contract Confidence: Transitioning to a New HVAC Service Provider.