Now and then I run across a topic with potential for significant impact, but the details are being debated. The topic of today’s blog, R-22 dry charge condenser units, is one of those. Rather than call this blog “news” or “facts”, I’m putting this out as a “heads up” (if your older R-22 system breaks down and are presented with a proposal for one of these), but more as a request for crowd sourcing from those of you who work in the HVAC industry or have experience on this topic.
The following is a bullet point summary of the high points I’ve seen on this topic:
- The refrigerant R-22 is being phased out by the U.S. EPA (2009) because of links to ozone depletion.
- There seems to be (depending on who is describing it…) a “loophole” or “wiggle room” in the wording in the law that allows U.S. manufacturers to keep making new AC condenser units that use R-22.
- A key point is the definition (some are saying misclassification) of the condensing unit as a component.
- These condensing units cannot be shipped charged with refrigerant R-22. As a result, they are shipped with an inert (nitrogen) holding charge. The R-22 in the old system is supposed to be captured. Then, the nitrogen must be evacuated from the new unit. Then the new unit must be field-charged with R-22 when installed. Thus, these R-22 units are called “dry shipped” condensing units.
- One projection I read (I have not yet been able to verify these numbers…) stated that up to six AC manufacturers will produce about 600,000 of the dry charged units in 2011. Each of these units will require up to appx. 8 pounds of R22 refrigerant.
Possible Pros and Cons
- Meeting the letter of the regulation vs. the spirit or intention of it.
- For a home or building owner of an older R-22 system with a worn out /failed outdoor component, the initial cost of having it replaced with a dry-charged R-22 unit could be substantially less expensive than getting a new system with R-410A.
- Consumers have been educated that R-22 needs to be phased out, and that we should buy higher-efficiency, environmentally friendly systems that use R-410A.
- Rebates and tax credits need to be factored into any major AC and heating purchase. Most rebate and tax credits require a whole new system purchase – I have not seen a major component qualify. (Since tax credits are taken post-purchase, always get tax credit details in writing from your contractor before you buy.)
- Field matching of components can cause issues (sooner or later..) that having a new, factory matched system will avoid.
- Since existing R-22 units come in a wide range of ages and types, there are some potential compatibility issues. A technical bulletin from one manufacturer of the dry-charged replacement units I found read as follows: “If the (indoor) coil was made in 1999 or earlier replace the coil or air hander. Do not install a new condenser if the indoor unit has a “cap tube” style coil.
Why the confusion or controversy?
- Well, for starters, it seems that at least one of the companies manufacturing these (a major manufacturer, of these) dry charged units equipment is petitioning the EPA to modify the rules to end the production of these units. See the link below, and to read comments that attest to the strong opinions on this topic, scroll to the bottom of the linked article.
- When I visited several of the manufacturer websites, I see references to the compressor motor and corrosion-resistant cabinet, and that the outdoor units make an alternative solution to compressor replacement. So, for us non-technicians, the whole outdoor unit is involved in the replacement, not just the condenser coil.
- Within the industry, the debates fall under several themes: cost (initial and later), refrigerant availability, effectiveness of the procedure, proper installation and handling of refrigerant, environmental/regulations.
More info added 8/6: check out this 6-minute YouTube clip. It is a panel discussion by HVAC industry leaders on this same topic
If you have experience on this topic, please let us hear from you.