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Refrigeration Talk – Fork in the Road

Refrigeration Talk – Fork in the Road


How Do You Know Which Refrigerant to Use?

Yankee’s legend Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”.  That is the feeling of most people in the refrigeration industry today when faced with choosing a refrigerant to use.  There are ways to make the selection process less confusing than Yogi Berra’s infamous statement.  There are no “Silver Bullet solutions” when it comes to choosing the proper refrigerant to use in a system.  There are many factors to consider.  Those factors include; application, cost, safety, reliability, availability, compatibility, manufactures approval, service ability, tools required, customer’s policies and future mandates and regulations.

The application of the system, such as an air conditioner, cooler or freezer, will narrow the choices that are currently listed in the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) list of acceptable refrigerants.  There are over 400 choices in the SNAP list so reducing the choices as quickly as possible is a huge advantage in the selection process.  We have found the SNAP website, www.epa.gov/snap, is a good place to start.  It has the refrigerants divided up as per the types of applications they are used for.


The current and future costs of a refrigerant should be used as one of the selection criteria.  The process used to phase out a refrigerant is simple, the production of new product is stopped.  The use of the refrigerant is not banned, as long as you can afford to buy the available refrigerant.  Keep in mind you are not mandated to convert to a new refrigerant.  One of the times to consider converting is if the system uses a refrigerant that has been or will be phased out and a major component like a compressor has failed.  Check on the current price and projected price increases of the alternative refrigerant that you are considering to make sure it is economically feasible.  Your local refrigerant vendor is an excellent source of this information.


Safety of the different types of refrigerant can be found listed in the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 34.  Standard 34 classifies refrigerants by their toxicity and flammability.  The choice of an alternative refrigerant should not put the health and safety of humans and buildings in jeopardy.  The use of flammable refrigerants will increase because they have a low global warming potential.  The current building codes do not allow the use of flammable refrigerants.  The building codes will be changed to accommodate the use of flammable refrigerants.  The best advice is to be very, very careful and make sure you know what you are working with and get the proper training on how to handle it.


The reliability of a refrigerant is paramount in selecting the proper refrigerant.  Do your due diligence and research how long your proposed choice has been on the market and how has it performed in your type of application.  The best advice here is to not be the “Guinee Pig”.


Chose a refrigerant that is readily available.  You don’t want to be caught having to wait for a shipment of refrigerant that is only made and sold on the other side of the country.  This can be very costly in loss of product and extended down time.  The upfront salesmanship of the startup companies that claim they have the best “Drop In” type of refrigerant can be quite convincing.  Once the sale is made they just might be very hard to find.  There again your local refrigerant vendor can let you know what they have in stock.


The compressor is the main component in a refrigeration system.  Make sure that the compressor manufacture has approved the alternative or new refrigerant to be compatible for use in the compressor.  That goes for all the rest of the components in the system, too.  If the alternative or new refrigerant causes component or system failure the costs associated with repairing or replacing can be astronomical.


Communication with your refrigeration service provider is vital in the selection process.  Your service provider can answer questions about what types of alternative refrigerants they have successfully worked with in the past and what tools they have acquired that might be required to service the system after the refrigerant conversion has been made.


Another factor to be considered in choosing the right alternative or new refrigerant is the customer’s corporate policies.  Some customers have environmental committees that are tasked with developing policies to reduce their carbon footprint and increase energy efficiency.  Making sure that the refrigerant choice complies with the customer’s corporate policies will be important in building lasting relationships and trust.


Governmental mandates change frequently and must be followed closely to eliminate the chance of having to do things twice.  The global warming issue has made the choice of alternative refrigerants a moving target.  Your refrigeration service provider, the EPA and your current governmental representatives are all sources of information as to what the current and future laws governing the proper use of refrigerants are now and future changes.


The factors listed above are starting points to be considered when choosing an alternative or new refrigerant.  Each project will require its own set of criteria to make an educated choice.  The key to remember is to plan ahead so you are not forced into making emergency type decisions that can cost you time and money by having to do things more than once.


If you have any questions or comments about your particular refrigerant system’s situation I would be glad to assist you in any way that I can.  Please contact me at Email.


Don Howerter

Senior Project Manager

Ruyle Mechanical Services.