By Kevin Bartley, Division Manager with Nexus 5 Group
In my last blog, I spoke about the efficiency changes that are coming from the Department of Energy in 2023. In this blog, I want to provide some insight on another change that will be happening in 2023 that will also have a major impact on the industry.
If you have not read part 1, I urge you to do that first. Both changes are equally important in the HVAC Industry and ultimately how they will affect your wallet.
As everyone knows, refrigerant types have changed many times over the last several decades. From your car to your home, changes have been made in order to decrease the amount of CFCs that enter the atmosphere, depleting the ozone layer. Whether you believe in global warming or not, this is not meant to be a political stance. We're informing you that changes are not only coming, but are here and being implemented as we speak.
We will start with some history...
Years ago, everyone remembers that cars required R-12 refrigerant. Then R-12 was banned because it was a CFC (Chlorofluorocarbon) and its replacement was R-134A which is considered a HFC (Hydrofluorocarbon).
The same situation applies to your home air conditioner. We've used R-22 (CFC) since the 70s. R-22 was replaced by R-410A (HFC) in the late 1990s. United Technologies (Carrier Corp) found that R-410A was the solution to long term sustainability and the wheels were set in motion to change all equipment being manufactured to R-410A by 2010. That worked well for the industry as there were just a few training hurdles to conquer on the installation side. And everyone in the industry needed to conform to new means and methods. Great... sounds like a plan that was going to be a good solution for the industry, right? Wrong!
Not Good Enough
Later on, with more discovery, a governmental entity decided that was not going to be good enough. Now we needed to get rid of the HFC in the industry. We still have a massive amount of R-22 equipment in the field because many manufacturers kept producing until 2010. Even though R-22 was banned since 2010, it has still been fairly available until recently. As we approached 2023 when the new laws were to take effect, we saw prices of R-410A shoot up 600%. (This spike happened over the last 2 years.)
We're seeing manufacturers, suppliers and installers starting to seriously worry about what other changes are coming. If you call an HVAC contractor today to get a new system installed, they will install an R-410A system that's already on the chopping block to be discontinued over the next 12 months. As of today, you can't purchase updated replacements because they're not even in production yet. This situation is crazy right?
What can you do?
That's a great question. I've been in this business for almost 30 years and I don't have a clue. The trend is that R-454B will be the new replacement for R-410A systems. These systems are not even close to the same chemistry and you can't just “drop in the new stuff”. This will require a complete system change for the new refrigerant system.
In 2020, the EPA mandate reduces the production of HFCs by 85% over the next 15 years. I know, it sounds like a long time. A typical system lasts 15 years. So the timing should be good unless your system crashes during the transitional period.
I do believe that HFCs will continue to climb in price over the next few years. As I've said, they've climbed almost 600% since 2019.
The new refrigerant R-454B has its own set of issues that contractors are still trying to figure out. Only time will tell how this will all shake out. If you are the end user, be budgeting for some serious cost changes that will be coming soon. Over the last few years, we've seen price increases of 50%. I believe that those costs will continue to increase with no relief in the short term.
In an industry that's already struggling to keep a reasonable supply of refrigerant, everyone will have to help pay for this transition over the coming months and years.