All About Refrigerants
The refrigerant in your appliances keep you, your home, and your foods cool, but what do you really know about refrigerants? What kind of technology do they employ? Are they safe? There is a lot to learn about the world of refrigerants. What are refrigerants? Refrigerants are compounds, typically fluids or gases, with the ability to readily absorb heat. When used in conjunction with other mechanical equipment, such as heat pumps and compressors, refrigerants change from liquid to gas and back again as part of the refrigeration cycle, converting and discharging absorbed heat in order to maintain a specific temperature. Types of refrigerants include:
- Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) Known to contribute to the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion, such as R-12.
- Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) Mixtures of hydrogen, chlorine, fluorine, and carbon. Slightly less damaging to the ozone due to their short lifespan when exposed to the atmosphere, such as R-22, but mandated by the EPA for phaseout resulting from the Clean Air Act of 2010.
- Hydrofluorcarbons (HFCs) No chlorine, and believed safer for the ozone, such as R-410A and R-134.
- Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) Man-made from fluorine and carbon ions, and also considered safer for the ozone.
- Hydrocarbons Such as propane.
- Ammonia and carbon dioxide blends Naturally occurring refrigerant gas blends.
Laws governing the use and disposal of refrigerants Early refrigerants were highly toxic and dangerous. Today’s modern gases are safer, however they have a damaging effect on the ozone and environment, prompting the need for safe handling and disposal rules. According to the refrigerant recycling requirements of the Clean Air Act of 1990:
- The intentional venting of refrigerant is prohibited, including venting while maintaining, servicing, repairing, or disposing of appliances.
- A good faith attempt must be made to recapture, recycle, and safely dispose of refrigerant.
- Appliances with cooling elements, such as refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, water coolers, ice makers and dehumidifiers, are subject to the EPA’s safe disposal requirements.
- Refrigerant may be returned to systems owned by the same person without restriction.
- Only mixtures specifically made for holding charges and leak tests may be discharged.
- Small releases of refrigerant from purging and/or connecting/disconnecting hoses are not considered a violation, however low-loss fittings must be used.
- Leaks must be repaired within 30 days in equipment holding 50 pounds or more of refrigerant when it is being lost at a rate of 15 percent or more per year.
- Refrigerant may only be purchased by appropriately licensed technicians and their employers.
- The EPA is authorized to issue fines of up to $37,500 per day for violation of refrigerant regulations, including the black market sale or purchase of refrigerants.
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