Be careful refueling your A/C

AdobeStock_514814.jpegvia Moak: Be careful refueling your A/C, clarionledger.com

As the weather heats up here in the South, our air-conditioning units will be getting busier and busier. The invention of air-conditioning has without a doubt created fundamental changes in how we live. Since its introduction in 1902, air-conditioning has not only changed the way we build structures (and even entire communities); it has also changed the way we interact (or don’t) with our neighbors and how much time we spend outdoors.

The rapid spread of air-conditioning (for which I, like most Southerners, am eternally thankful) has also led to rising concerns about the impact this technology has on the environment. Some refrigerants used in air-conditioning units (known as HCFCs or Freon) are being limited or banned outright by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency out of concern they’re damaging the ozone layer. (Which — in case you weren’t paying attention in your high-school science class — protects us from being fried by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.)

The EPA is in the middle of an aggressive phase-out of some HCFCs, which will force companies to stop making them by 2020. Since the phase-out targets the widely used R-22 or HCFC-22, it’s forcing the industry to find new ways to adapt. Although R-22 use is still legal, the phase-out means the cost is rising and will continue to rise due to decreased supplies. (It’s important to remember you can still use R-22, and if you have it in your unit, it’s perfectly fine.) You’ll only have to pay higher prices if your A/C unit needs to be “recharged” due to a leak.

As costs rise and R-22 stockpiles dwindle, however, people have tried a lot of ideas for replacements. Unfortunately, some of those ideas aren’t so smart; some alternatives to R-22 are being sold that could be dangerous because they contain highly flammable propane. Yes, the same propane that you use to light your campsite or cook your hamburgers is a primary component in a substance being sold as “R-22a.” The EPAissued a news release earlier this month warning about the products and how they can cause an improperly equipped air-conditioner to explode or catch fire.

“Using an unapproved, flammable refrigerant in a system that wasn’t designed to address flammability can lead to serious consequences, including explosion or injury in the worst cases,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “As the summer cooling season gets started, we want to make sure consumers and equipment owners know what is going into their system is safe.”

The EPA has already conducted several enforcement actions about R-22a and related products, including the arrest of a Metairie, Louisiana, man who earlier this year allegedly sold a product called “Super-Freeze 22A” but didn’t warn his customers it could catch fire. In two additional cases, companies in Kansas and Illinois faced huge fines and were forced to stop selling similar products.

“EPA encourages technicians and contractors to consult our website for more information and recommends homeowners confirm that air-conditioning service providers follow manufacturers’ recommendations,” the EPA said in the news release. “Homeowners should be aware that recharging their cooling systems with the wrong refrigerant can void manufacturers’ warranties.”

The EPA has a list of questions and answers about R-22A atwww.epa.gov/snap/questions-and-answers-about-r-22a-safety.

In the meantime, if you are concerned about R-22 or alternatives, talk to your HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning) technician to make sure you know what’s being put into your unit. Most experts recommend having a qualified HVAC company take a look at your system at least once a year anyway, especially since our Mississippi summer is going to give your system quite a workout.

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