Hello everyone and happy New Year! I hope that everyone has a solid set of plans for this year. Something that is on my mind today is that we are only two years away from 2020 and when that day hits R-22 refrigerant can no longer be manufactured or imported into the United States. After that date hits there will only be a couple ways to obtain R-22 for future repairs.
The first is purchasing from a distributor who has stockpiled the virgin refrigerant in expectation of the 2020 deadline. While this solution may work for a while it is not a permanent solution and these guys will run out of their inventory pretty fast once the summer heat turns on. This solution may last one season but after that you are going to be out of luck.
The only other way to get R-22 after 2020 is through refrigerant reclamation. I won’t get into all of the details on the reclamation process here but basically a certified EPA reclaimer will take your dirty or used refrigerant that is full of contaminants such as water, Chloride, Ion, Acidity, boiling residue, particulates, and anything else that could get into the refrigerant. They will then refurbish the refrigerant so that it is like new again, or at least until it meets the ARI-700 standard.
The full document on the standard can be found here but basically it defines and classifies refrigerant contaminants based on widely available testing methods per type of refrigerant. On top of that it also specifies what the acceptable level of contaminants that are allowed in order to meet ARI-700 standard in a reclaimed refrigerant. This standard is managed by the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute. (AHRI)
Along with those standards the reclaimer has to go through a series of checks and practices to ensure that they are certified with the Environmental Protection Agency to be a refrigerant reclaimer. So, when you pass on your dirty refrigerant over to a reclaimer you can be assured that they know what they are doing. A list of the reclaimers can be found on the EPA’s website.
While all this seems well and good there are a lot of people in the industry today who just aren’t comfortable with using reclaimed refrigerants. Discovering this has caused me to write this article and express concern on the future of R-22 machines on the market today.
Technician’s Hesitation on Reclaimed Refrigerants
I am from the automotive side of the business and when I read over the reclamation process I couldn’t help but think of a dirty core on an automotive part. Those of you on that side of the business will know what I am talking about. Cores are a constant headache that always have to be managed by the parts distributor or dealership.
The best way I can describe a core is to imagine a standard yellow highlighter. It is working fine but overtime it eventually fails and it no longer highlights. What you are left with is a non-usable highlighter. You still have the ‘shell’ of the highlighter, also known as the core. It doesn’t work but there is someone who may still want it.
Depending on the industry and the category there are numerous companies that will take that ‘highlighter,’ and remanufacture it so that it is working again. They will then sell it at a cheaper cost as a remanufactured highlighter. This process is done all day every day on parts like brake shoes, alternators, starters, engines, transmissions, etc. The benefit to the customer is that they get a cheaper version or alternative offered and at the same time the parts distributor makes a little bit more money as well versus selling an OEM product.
As you can imagine the ‘dirty core,’ in this situation is the used refrigerant that comes into the reclaimers. The reclaimers, just like automotive remanufacturers, have a set of standards that they have to follow and abide by before they can sell their remanufactured product. The reason I bring all of this up is that there are always customers out there who refuse to even consider a remanufactured part. No. They only want new and will refuse the cheaper alternatives out there. These same type of people exist in the refrigerant world as well. I’ve read accounts from numerous technicians and small business owners stating that they refuse to use reclaimed refrigerant. Sure, they’ll send back their dirty refrigerant and take the cash up front but they won’t be buying that reclaimed refrigerant when it’s all said and done.
But why, why does this perception exist? Is there truly something to be concerned about or is this just fear of the unknown and techs and business owners wanting to stay with what they know and are familiar with? We discussed it above but remember that these reclaimed refrigerants have to go through a series of tests and checks, have to pass ARI-700 before they can be legally sold, AND the reclaimer has to be certified with the EPA. All of these checks should more than enough to spur purchases.
The mentality of the technicians I mentioned in the above section will have to change before that 2020 year hits. Otherwise, we could run into a whole series of R-22 units ‘retiring’ before their lifespan. If the tech can’t get a hold of virgin R-22 refrigerant and he isn’t comfortable selling reclaimed R-22 what do you think is going to happen? If it was me, I would either try to sell a retrofit to MO99, or some other alternative, OR I would try to sell them a new 410A unit. While the early retirement of R-22 units isn’t a bad thing my concern is that there will be a lot of extra forced cost on customers and business owners to upgrade when they in fact could have waited for another four to five years.
The other side of the coin here is what do you do if your competition is perfectly fine with using reclaimed R-22 and your techs are not? You leave a quote with a customer for a new unit and a different company leaves a quote for a fill up and a leak repair. It’s not going to look good on you or your company.