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How to Make Better HVAC Refrigerant Decisions

Posted on 9/1/2015 10:19 AM by Brian S. Smith

With increasing frequency, manufacturers of HVAC equipment are fielding questions from customers, dealers and building owners and operators regarding the status of various refrigerants used in North American chillers and HVAC equipment today. Here are considerations around three of the most frequently asked questions, as well as factors to consider before making a refrigerant change:

What are the refrigerants currently being phased out?

The CFC and HCFC class of refrigerants are in the late stages of being phased out under the terms of the 1987 Montreal Protocol. These refrigerants include chlorine, which has been shown to cause damage to the Earth’s protective ozone layer when the molecules get into the upper atmosphere.  CFCs (such as R-11 and R-12) are largely eliminated already, while HCFCs (such as R-22 and R-123) are still used in existing installations. HCFCs have been targeted for elimination by 2020 for developed countries and by 2030 for developing countries. The refrigerants of choice to replace HCFCs in existing and new equipment are HFCs (such as R-134a, R-410A, R-404A and R-507).

What is the US EPA SNAP (Significant New Alternatives Policy) program, and how does it affect my existing or upcoming chiller purchases?

The SNAP program was established as a means for the EPA to allow a safe, smooth transition away from ozone-depleting compounds by identifying substitutes that reduce the overall risk to human health and the environment. The EPA SNAP program has developed a list of approved alternatives for CFCs and HCFCs. The most common alternative refrigerants are HFCs, as noted in the previous question. Recently, refrigerant producers have begun requesting EPA approval for some new HFO alternatives, too. 

For chiller applications, the best choice for refrigerants continues to be R-134a and R-410A, since most equipment has been highly optimized for efficiency and performance using those refrigerants. Over time, manufacturers will continue testing new refrigerants and will optimize their hardware for these newer alternatives. But cost and availability may be a challenge until the industry settles on the direction and a more widespread adoption occurs. Using systems not optimized for a newer refrigerant can result in higher first costs, higher maintenance costs and lower energy efficiency.

The EPA recently published its final ruling, based on the original July 2014 proposal to restrict certain HFCs.  The ruling targets higher emission applications, such as mobile air conditioning, retail refrigeration and certain aerosol and foam applications. It does not impact commercial air conditioning using stationary chillers, rooftops, etc.

How will I know when it is appropriate to change to new refrigerants?

While regulatory and other actions will evolve over time, governments will, as they have in the past, ensure that building owners are not left with stranded assets and will allow for more than ample time to convert when the time is right. There is no risk to the continued use of HFCs, such as R-134a and R-410A, and no calls to phase out those refrigerants in stationary air-conditioning equipment. It may take a decade or more for new refrigerants to be tested and approved by the various agencies and manufacturers involved, and some experts believe that R-134a and R-410A will be available indefinitely.

Optimal refrigerant selection depends on many factors for any given situation. However, there are five that are the most significant: safety, availability, reliability, performance and cost. Each must be satisfied before considering a change.

Let us review these five factors briefly, one-by-one:

1) Safety has many facets, but flammability and toxicity are the two primary considerations. With the exception of R-123, which has higher toxicity, most commercially used refrigerants are classified as lower toxicity. Some of the newer HFC and HFO refrigerants are slightly flammable. So, building codes and equipment safety standards need to be updated to address this fact before they can be used safely. Also, service technicians will need to be properly trained and equipped to install and maintain systems safely.

2) Many new refrigerants are only recently being made available, and in some cases, full-scale production hasn’t started. Local supplies will need to be established if demand ramps up for individual fluids. From our experience with early HFC alternatives to R-22, there were localized issues with availability until widespread adoption occurred, and today it is not clear yet what new options will gain the needed widespread adoption that will allow suppliers to inventory enough of these fluids to support local needs.

3) Compatibility of materials and refrigerant stability are crucial, not only for reliable, cost-effective operation and maintenance, but also for safety reasons. While much has been learned from past refrigerant transitions, each new fluid requires compatibility testing to ensure that gaskets, elastomers and other materials of construction are compatible with the fluid for the life of the chiller –  lessons learned from the industry’s past experience with new refrigerant types.

4) Performance can be measured in terms of cooling capacity and efficiency. There are no perfect drop-in replacement refrigerants for any of the existing refrigerants. Each has a trade-off, many involving either capacity or efficiency, and sometimes both. Less capacity means a higher first cost for larger compressors and heat exchangers, while lower efficiency results in higher operating costs and potentially greater greenhouse gas emissions through indirect sources (increased use of fossil fuels back at the power plant).

5) Once the above factors are addressed, demand will need to increase to a point to make it profitable for refrigerant manufacturers to bring the costs down to reasonable levels. Today, these HFO refrigerants can be several factors higher cost than HFCs. The newer HFO fluids are more complex molecules and require additional steps in their manufacturing processes than conventional HFCs, which suggests higher prices, even at global production scale.

As the phase-out of ozone-depleting CFC and HCFC refrigerants continues, drop-in alternatives are limited. Although R-134a and R-410A are the subject of much discussion in regulatory and political circles, they remain the best refrigerant choices for most stationary HVAC applications. In fact, HFCs will continue to be the best choices for our industry – at least until the performance hurdles, risks and concerns for safety associated with the many new, emerging refrigerants are addressed and a local supply becomes readily available and cost-effective.

Brian S. Smith is Director, Global Marketing, Chiller Solutions, Building Efficiency at Johnson Controls.


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Advantages of Online Pest Management for FMs

Posted on 8/26/2015 12:33 PM by Chad Gore

For facility managers in every setting, whether educational, healthcare, government, retail, multi-family complexes or other commercial or institutional facility, maintaining a safe and clean environment is a core responsibility and essential to ensuring a positive impression with building occupants and management alike.  One critical factor in attaining that goal is proactive and effective pest management.

Maintaining careful records concerning pest activity and pest control recommendations is essential for facility managers to ensure and demonstrate that pest activity is not having a negative impact on their standards for safety and cleanliness—or those of their managers, occupants or auditors.

The disadvantages of paper-based recordkeeping systems

In this regard, problems can arise when traditional paper-based methods for documenting pest control activities are used. Paper records typically result in cumbersome log books containing a voluminous number of documents, including inspector recommendations, inspection tickets, authorized product lists, inspector certifications and other documents related to the ongoing pest control program.

Over time, these log books become voluminous, and it can be difficult to find documents when they are needed for an audit or management review. Tracking actions taken as a result of inspection results can also be difficult if the documents are not consistently kept in good order. Moreover, keeping records in order becomes an even bigger problem in situations where records must be kept for multiple site locations. Additionally, with a paper-based records system there is always the possibility that documents will be misplaced or destroyed.

A successful integrated pest management program requires close interaction and cooperation between the facilities manager and the pest control provider. This is the primary reason why moving from a paper-based logbook to an online pest management system is a wise choice.

There are new communication and document management technologies available that are transforming how pest control programs are managed. With an online pest management reporting system, facility managers can get the most from an integrated pest management program, while at the same time reducing the burden of maintaining pest control records.

Seven significant benefits of online reporting

One of the key advantages of an online pest management system is that the pest control technician logs the results of an inspection and any recommended remedial actions electronically at the end of a site visit. That recorded information is immediately visible to the facility manager by accessing  an easy-to-read online dashboard. Evidence of pest activity and the details related to any service applications can be tracked by location in the system as well as all inspection recommendations and the status of action steps taken concerning those recommendations.

Seven significant benefits of online pest management include:

1) Accurate, detailed records of pest activity

Dashboard reports identify detected pest species, locations with high levels of activity, and site plans with complete activity history. Instant access to key information is enabled with a pre-populated and personalized dashboard, reporting on single or multiple locations depending on your facility footprint. From the dashboard you can view site summaries, manage recommendations and pest activity, and create proactive email alerts for recommendations.

2) Recommendations to help improve your pest management program

An online pest management system will help you proactively manage improvements to your program by monitoring recommendations from the technician. The facility manager or other designated user can document actions taken on structural, sanitation, or other types of recommendations provided by technicians that become a permanent, time-stamped record that can positively affect the third party audit experience.

3) Interactive site plans to demonstrate your pest management coverage

Site plans can display all the devices and inspection points throughout your site (or sites), graphically showing your defenses against pest infestations. Interactive site plans can highlight areas with a history of activity, assisting with the identification of risk areas.

4) Customized charts can assist you in identifying pest trends

Knowing your pest management risk is a crucial step in preventing pest problems. Having the ability to view, monitor, and report on pest activity and recommendations is critical. This capability will allow you to create and customize graphical outputs of pest activity trends, providing you with a clear view of how improvements in operational processes have affected pest activity.

5) Reports that deliver data directly to your inbox

Tailored reports showing your pest activity, recommendations, and material usage, can be automatically generated and emailed directly to your inbox. You can also schedule exports to be run at various intervals, whether daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly, ensuring that you are always up-to-date with the most critical details that may affect your facility.

6) Multi-site tools to help you manage your entire pest control program

In multi-site applications, look for tools that identify each registered site in your program with pest problems or recommendations across your entire property portfolio. Easily navigate between each worksite and create customizable reports that collate data from each of them into a single document.

7) Proof of service and access to information on pest activity 24/7

The proof of service report captures all visit details a technician records during a visit. The proof of service report can be maintained and viewed online at any time. Additionally, whether in the office or on the move, an online pest management system can be accessed whenever you need it. Solutions are available that include a smartphone app to view pest activity as well as review and interact with recommendations when you are away.

Getting the results you need

Advancing technologies are having an impact on every industry's workflows, and facilities management is no exception. Gaining the ability to access vital data about your pest control program—in real time—through an online database is not only a convenience; it can improve the effectiveness of your facility's integrated pest control program as well as make an audit or other review much more seamless. Moving away from manually maintaining a physical logbook of pest control information to an organized online, on demand pest management approach will not only save time and reduce the risk of incomplete recordkeeping, it will also help you collaborate effectively with your pest control provider to ensure a successful pest control program for your facility.

Chad Gore is Regional Technical Director at Rentokil North America.

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