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Commercial HVAC, Commercial Kitchen, Commercial Refrigeration

What You Need to Know About Refrigerant Safety and Your HVAC System

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Last Updated on June 24, 2015


If It’s Bad for the Ozone Layer, It’s Bad for You.

If you’re a facility manager, you may think all you need to know about your air conditioning system is that it’s working properly. If the building is cool, why worry about how that happens?

The reason you should be concerned is that refrigerants, the chemicals in your air conditioner that actually do the cooling, can pose a serious threat to your building’s occupants (not to mention the planet’s ozone layer) if not handled properly.

It’s important to understand the potential dangers posed by refrigerants so you make sure to hire only qualified technicians to work on your air conditioning system, and so that you take precautions to prevent any accidents from occurring in your building.

1. Are refrigerants really that dangerous?

They certainly can be, and here’s an example. For decades, the industry-standard refrigerant used in all air conditioners was something called R-22 or HCFC-22, more commonly known as Freon. Several years back, a worldwide environmental treaty called the Montreal Protocol declared Freon to be so dangerous to the ozone layer that it needed to be phased out of production and use by 2020. Since then, newer systems have been developed that use less ozone-depleting chemicals, but there are plenty of older, Freon-based air conditioners still in use. Last year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a warning about companies marketing illegal, unapproved substitutes for Freon that have caused explosions that resulted in injuries.

If you have an air conditioner manufactured before 2009, you should be aware of what type of refrigerant it uses. If your older system develops a leak, it may need to be recharged with more refrigerant. Be sure you know which refrigerant is being used and that it is approved by the EPA. For more information, refer to the EPA’s lists of acceptable refrigerants for different uses.

In addition to the environmental risks from Freon, any refrigerant can cause breathing problems and even death if released in large amounts into the air. Even small amounts of refrigerant can also cause skin and eye injury if handled improperly.

To ensure the safety of your building’s occupants, you need to provide safe and secure mechanical rooms (or any area where refrigerants are used in your building). You also need to verify that your HVAC contractors and technicians are properly trained and experienced in all aspects of refrigerant handling.

2. How to prevent refrigerant accidents in your building.

To prevent accidents you need to make sure the environment that houses your HVAC equipment is safe:

  • Place warning labels on all equipment that uses refrigerant to prevent anyone who is not a trained expert from touching the equipment.
  • It’s essential to restrict access to mechanical equipment rooms to authorized personnel only. Make sure any areas where refrigerant is used are well-lighted and free of debris, to ensure safe access to equipment and allow technicians to see what they are doing.
  • Install a monitoring system with visual and auditory alarms to alert personnel in the area in the event of a release of refrigerant.
  • Make sure safety equipment is located nearby, including eye wash stations, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and emergency telephones or communication devices.

3. Hire only certified HVAC experts to ensure safety.

It’s critical (and it’s also the law) that any HVAC technician who works on your system has EPA 608 certification, which is required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for technicians who perform maintenance and repair services and disposal of refrigerants.

You also want ask for technicians who also have industry certifications such as MSCA Star or NATE, which require a higher level of education and training, as well as passing a certification exam. These experts will have experience handling all the necessary equipment, including safety interlocks and disconnects that prevent leaks into the air. They will be trained in the fastest and most effective methods to find refrigerant leaks. And you can be sure they follow protocols and have all the required personal protective gear.

As industry leaders, Arista is committed to employing only certified technicians and following the highest level of safety standards.

4. Don’t pay too high a price for being cool.

Who knew that a threat like this was lurking in nearly every building in New York City? Now that you do know, you can take the necessary steps to save your building’s occupants, as well as the planet, from the dangers of refrigerants.

You should also know that Arista has been leading the way to environmental innovation for over 20 years, since it created its ozone guard program in response to the passing of the EPA’s Clean Air Act. Today, Arista’s Blue Sky Initiative deploys environmentally safe practices, brings smarter solutions to their clientele, and educates our community about currently available clean and green practices.

To learn more about transitioning to a new HVAC service provider, download a copy of our white paper, Contract Confidence: Transitioning to a New HVAC Service Provider.
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