R22 Phase Out
The EU is implementing a staged reduction in the availability of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). This will see a drop of approx 79% between 2015 and 2030.
The most important part of these cuts, particularly to the air conditioning industry, is that since 1st January 2015, it is no longer possible to source/buy R22 refrigerant within the UK, and there are now tangible restrictions on what F-Gas engineers are allowed to do with systems containing R22 refrigerant.
If you have air conditioning systems using R22 refrigerant, then you will probably already be aware that your exposure risks in the event of breakdown are far greater than if your system(s) are using currently commercially available refrigerants, like R410A.
So, what does this mean in practice? Well, if your system uses R22 refrigerant and it breaks down, then there is a very real likelihood that it will not be possible to carry out repairs. Firstly and most importantly, if the refrigerant lines need to be broken, for any reason, then the refrigerant must be reclaimed and destroyed. Secondly, but still very importantly, spare parts for these older systems are becoming much more scarce, such that even if the refrigerant lines do not need to be touched, replacement parts may not be obtainable.
Options and way forward?
Total System Replacement
The most effective and efficient option would be to replace all parts of your air conditioning system, including indoor and outdoor units, pipework and electrical wiring. This would ensure you have the most up to date technology providing you with the most reliable and efficient equipment possible. This represents the best long term solution to the R22 Phase Out.
In some cases it's just not possible to re-use some of your existing components, making a full system replacement the only possible solution. The downside however is that it involves the highest initial capital outlay and increases the installation time.
If you have the resources to upgrade your entire system, it's certainly worth doing. You will be ensuring you get the most energy efficient system with the lowest lifetime costs. However, if your initial budget is limited, maybe one of the other solutions may suit.
Replace Outdoor and Indoor Units
If possible (in many but not all instances) you could reuse your existing infrastructure, including pipework, wiring and power supply, replacing only the indoor and outdoor units and refrigerant. This could cut installation costs by up to 50% and will minimise the impact on your organisation. This approach significantly reduces installation times and can come very close to matching the benefits of a total system replacement.
You will see major improvements to performance, energy efficiency and running costs, without having to make an overwhelming investment.
All of the major manufacturers offer partial R22 replacement solutions. This involves installing state of the art air conditioning units and integrating them with your existing infrastructure. It guarantees that your piping network is clean, fit for purpose and free from the banned R22 refrigerant. Depending on the equipment you have in place, it's even sometimes possible to replace the outdoor units only, which further reduces installation time and costs.
Partial R22 replacement solutions also give you an opportunity to upgrade your system, increasing the capacity or number of units. This approach brings your old infrastructure up to speed with your organisation's current needs. We can work with you to design a system that is truly fit for purpose, saving you money by using the foundations you already have in place.
Use a "drop-in" refrigerant
"Drop-in" refrigerants mirror the function of R22 in old systems without the legal implications or negative environmental impact. However, in reality, it's impossible to use a substitute refrigerant without complex re-engineering and re-commissioning.
Taking this approach will diminish your system's reliability and performance, leaving you at risk of failure or unplanned downtime. Maintaining your ageing system will become increasingly expensive and many manufacturers don't support alternative refrigerants due to the problems they cause.
Drop-in refrigerants should only ever be used as a short term measure. Even then, it's vital they form part of a suitable replacement plan. While drop-in refrigerants may reduce your immediate capital spending, they are not cost-effective solutions to the R22 Phase Out and should be avoided where possible. Of all the R22 replacement options, drop-in refrigerants are the riskiest, and, in the long run, most expensive.
Leave things as they are and keep your fingers crossed
This is perfectly acceptable, but do bear in mind that depending on the size and complexity of your system(s) replacement could take some time. Whilst most equipment can be purchased within days, some have lead in times significantly longer. If this risk is too great for you/your business then perhaps another option should be considered.
As a minimum, you should ensure appropriate planned preventative maintenance to your ageing R22 equipment should be implemented / kept up, to maximise the remaining lifespan of your equipment.
Serious consideration should be given to planning for and budgeting sufficient resources to replacement of your equipment (Option 1 or 2 above).
If you have an enquiry about your system(s) and would like to discuss your options, then please call us on 01268 410427
For the latest government guidance on the HFC phase down, click here: gov.uk/guidance/hfc-phase-down-in-the-eu-how-it-works-and-exemptions
There is a vast amount of available information across the net on this topic, but click here for some useful up to date background information.