Residential AC and Heat Pump Refrigerants Under Increased Regulation
Refrigerants today are highly regulated hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) that are used in more than just air conditioners and heat pumps. They are used in refrigerators, freezers, automobile AC systems, heat pump water heaters, fire suppressant systems, foams, solvents aerosols, and more. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires HVAC technicians hold special Section 608 certification to work with refrigerants for health and safety reasons.
Over the years, scientists have been searching for refrigerants that are both efficient and climate-friendly without being flammable. Not long ago, chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) like Freon or R-22 were phased out because of the harm they do to the ozone layer. Because governments cooperated and ozone-depleting substances were largely phased down, scientists believe the ozone layer will make a full recovery in a matter of decades. We wrote also an article in 2021 that discussed refrigerants used in residential ACs and heat pumps and upcoming phasedowns.
HFCs, used for refrigeration, on the other hand, may phase down but they aren’t going to phase out completely.
The AIM Act & What It Means
The bipartisan, federal American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM) was signed into law on December 27, 2020. This law mandates that the EPA
- reduce the production and consumption of HFCs used for refrigeration and other purposes by 85% by 2036,
- maximize reclamation and minimize releases from equipment (like residential AC and heat pumps), and
- encourage the adoption of next-generation technologies.
This legislation is already rapidly changing what home appliances will be available to cool and heat your home in the coming days. Residential AC and heat pumps are just one type of home appliance to be affected by new legislation. It also affects fire suppression foams, refrigerators and freezers, water heaters, foam insulation, ice makers and more.
Reducing the Production & Consumption of Refrigerants
The EPA measures each HFC’s climate impact with a metric called its Global Warming Potential (GWP). This technical metric is “a measure of how much energy the emissions of 1 ton of gas will absorb over a given period of time, relative to the emissions of 1 ton of carbon dioxide).” The larger the number, the more a gas warms the Earth’s atmosphere as compared to carbon dioxide. It is ideal for manufacturers to pick a refrigerant with lower Global Warming Potential numbers than refrigerants currently in use in residential AC and heat pumps.
You can learn more about the final rule that sets benchmarks that will be used to reduce the use of refrigerants in the residential air conditioning and heating industry and others. The phasedown began in 2022 and will curb the use of HFCs dramatically by 2036.