One of the most remarkable creature comforts of the twentieth century was the invention of central air conditioning. No longer would it be necessary to concede to relentlessly hot weather. Now, man could choose to control the indoor temperature of his cave. Commercial buildings were built to depend on air conditioning for the control of their indoor temperature. Skyscrapers designed without windows that open made the comfort, and even the safety of the tenants dependent on the heating and cooling system. With the advent of energy-efficient home design, central air conditioning, once a luxury, became a standard part of almost all new-home designs.
So, in the '80s, we recoiled in disbelief when scientists announced that the Earth's protective ozone layer was eroding, and that the erosion was caused by the release into the atmosphere of unwanted refrigerants. The ozone layer protects the Earth's surface from ultraviolet sun rays.
Because of these environmental issues involving the earth's ozone layer, governments worldwide have chosen to eliminate R-22, the refrigerant used in most of today's comfort systems. In the past, when a refrigerant has been phased out, the cost of that refrigerant has risen dramatically.
To comply with the international guidelines, nations are given timetables for specific refrigerants, to first decrease, then, over a period of years, to halt the production. R-12, for example, was given the phase-out schedule illustrated in Table 1.
R-12 refrigerant was the first of the targeted Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), since it was deemed to cause the most damage to the environment. A cap was placed on the production of CFCs, and in 1996, by law, all manufacturing was required to cease. The industry to suffer the greatest impact was the automotive industry, which accounted for 64% of all R-12 CFC consumption.
Consumers requiring R-12 refrigerant for their automobile air conditioning units were faced with a nightmare combination of sharply upward-spiraling prices, and short supply. A simple (under-$100 in 1990) repair, by 1996, cost over $500.00. Since refrigerants are not interchangeable with one another, a compressor designed to run with R-12 cannot function with any other refrigerant.
Today, many non-toxic, non-flammable refrigerants have been developed as replacements for R-22. R410a, for example, is a non-chlorine environmentally frendly refrigerant. As with all refrigerants, alternative refrigerants must be utilized in a compressor specifically designed for specific operating (pressure, etc.) characteristics unique to each formulation. Major refrigerant manufacturers, anticipating the upcoming restrictions on R-22, have shifted investment capital away from R-22 and into R410a development for residential applications.
This means that, in the future, by the time the R-22 supply becomes restricted and high-priced, the only new units available will be the alternative refrigeration units.
So, with an eye on the future, manufacturers are beginning to introduce units which utilize the alternative refrigerant technology. Homeowners with the foresight to install the new technology now, when the time comes to replace their home's air conditioning system, will find that they have avoided the upcoming hassles which the R-22 restrictions are sure to cause. (see Table 2, R-22 Production vs. Projected Demand). Those who install the untits now are also doing the environment a service, by eliminating the use of ozone-depleting refrigerants from their life.
The cooling machines of the future, those using environmentally friendly refrigerants, are available here at Air Comfort Systems. Stop by our showroom, at 635 S. 70th Street, Milwaukee, or call us for a FREE in-home estimate.
Note from 2010 – Although this article was written years ago, the timetables referred to in the article are right on schedule. The manufacture of R-22 units has ceased, and the new units use the R410 refrigerant. At this point, the only R-22 units available are units manufactured prior to 2010, from manufacturer's and distributor's inventory. .
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