The face of the AC industry is always changing. Though home comfort is a wonderful luxury, it’s important to balance a comfortable environment inside with a healthy global environment beyond the walls of your home. To this end, the government is moving AC units away from R410a and other HCFC refrigerants and implementing new efficiency standards. Here’s what you need to know about the R410 phaseout and new 2021 energy efficiency standards.
The Rise and Fall of HFCs
HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) refrigerants were originally developed as a replacement for ozone-depleting substances (ODS) used in sectors such as air conditioning, refrigeration, and foam blowing. As ODS products such as R-22 refrigerants were phased out in compliance with the Montreal Protocol (MP) from the mid-1990s through 2010, the use of HFCs such as the well-known R410 refrigerant went up significantly.
Unfortunately, HFCs are potent greenhouse gases. The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol then followed in 2019, with the goal of phasing out HFCs. The Kigali Amendment aims to reduce HFC consumption by more than 80% by 2047. This should help slow down the increase in global temperature by 0.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
The AIM Act and HFC Phase-Out
The AIM (American Innovation & Manufacturing) Act passed in 2020, further elaborating on the phase-out of HFCs. This act gave the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) authorization to set standards for HFC management and reduction in the coming years. On September 23, 2021, the EPA released its final rule on the HFC phase-down. These guidelines detail the gradual reduction in HFC production which will begin in 2022 and continue through 2036. By 2036, efforts will plateau with a 15% decrease in the baseline.
Starting January 1, 2022, the AIM Act prohibits production or consumption of regulated substances in the US without correlating production or consumption allowances. Through 2022 and 2023, the EPA will allocate up to 90% of the baselines. Companies cannot bank these allowances as they will not carry forward past the respective calendar years. These allowances will reduce to 60% in 2024.
New System Requirements in 2023
Starting in 2023, new HVAC systems will no longer use R-410A. These systems will also be subject to new energy efficiency standards. New AC units produced in 2023 and beyond must have a minimum SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) of 14 in the northern part of the U.S. and at least 15 in the southern part of the country. Heat pumps will face a minimum HSPF (heating seasonal performance factor) of 8.8.
Introducing A2L Refrigerants
The EPA recommends A2L refrigerants such as R32 and R454B as replacements for R410. These A2L products are mildly flammable, presenting a fresh set of considerations when incorporating them in place of the A1 refrigerants that cannot propagate a flame. While HVAC professionals must take the potential flammability of these refrigerants into account, it’s important to note that the potential for ignition is still very low. A2L refrigerants require a high ignition energy, so most sources will not cause them to ignite.
The EPA’s SNAP Rule 23 identifies six A2L refrigerants as safe alternatives to R410. In addition to R32 and R454B, the EPA has also approved R452B, R454A, R454C, and R457A.These refrigerants are currently approved only for new self-contained and split-system air conditioners that are specifically designed for A2L refrigerants.
Handling the A2L Switch
AC units cannot seamlessly transition from R410 to A2L refrigerants. The air conditioner must be designed specifically for the A2L product. Therefore, the move to new refrigerants will only impact customers who are installing new units. This means that technicians must stay up-to-date with the best practices for working with both types of refrigerants as the transition is underway over the next few decades.
Our professionals at Griffith Energy Services, Inc. always stay at the forefront of new AC innovations. We can help you navigate the changing landscape of cooling systems and make sure you have the right system for your home. If you’re considering a new AC installation, call us today to find out about the latest highly efficient products available for your home.