What Are Refrigerants?
The EPA keeps a pulse on everything to do with refrigerants. Indeed, the EPA certification in many regards features the impact of refrigerants and having extensive knowledge of refrigerants and their effects on the environment as one of the most important topics covered. But what is refrigerant? Why would the EPA be paying such close attention to it and what could the long-term side effects of these substances really be? Let’s take a look.
Refrigerants are a cooling agent that often appears in liquid form. It works via vapor compression to carry heat through the cold to be put back into the atmosphere at a friendlier temperature. This actually works against the second law of thermodynamics by absorbing heat and spitting back out the cold air you feel in front of the vent of your HVAC system. This is done by converting the refrigerant repeatedly between two phases: low-pressure gas to a high-pressure liquid. Once the refrigerant has transformed the hot air and accepted the hot temperatures, it cools back down and returns to its original form as a low-pressure gas. This process can be completed with multiple different types of refrigerant, but as you may have guessed, chemicals that can reverse the laws of thermodynamics are hardly ever safe for the average person to touch.
For the initial chemical fluid to work as a refrigerant, it needs to meet specific physical, thermodynamic and chemical guidelines before it can be given the stamp of approval. That stamp of approval often entails that the chemical is both safe and economical. You may have heard of the Freon fiasco that’s coming to a head in the HVAC industry at this moment. Freon is a perfect example of a chemical coolant that does not meet these strict standards set down by the EPA. In fact, the production of freon was discontinued some time ago, however, plenty of folks still own freon-operated cooling appliances. Since it was deemed an extremely dangerous chemical for the environment, it’s an original stamp of approval from the EPA was revoked, however, that was done about 20 years ago. Things move slowly in that realm and are just now being truly enforced as the U.S. will no longer accept freon products or freon-run appliances in trade and they are no longer being manufactured as of January 2020.
That being said, there are a variety of popular refrigerants that, depending on the specific use and other details, can be used and traded for one another while not inflicting harm on the environment. Because there are so many different scenarios that will require the use of a refrigerant these approved chemicals are each used for specific needs. Unfortunately, there is no perfect refrigerant for every scenario, so it’s important to know the best refrigerant for each application. This is a crucial part of acquiring your EPA certification.
There are three common refrigerant varieties and each is best suited to their own uses. For example, hydrofluorocarbons, often known as R410A and R134. The real difference this compound holds over others is that it features no chlorine in the mixture. This makes it safer for the environment than the commonly used R22, so much so in fact that it’s often being replaced by R410A instead because it is a much better compound. In fact, air conditioners that run on R410A are far more efficient, provide better air quality to the inhabitants of the buildings and is a far more reliable model than the R22 models. Another type of popular refrigerant is hydrochlorofluorocarbons, mainly known as R22. At least, the most common form of this chemical appears as R22. It’s less damaging to the ozone layer than freon, known as R12, but it’s still considered to be the lesser brother of R410A. It too is in the process of being phased out, like freon before it. The third type of popular refrigerant is, indeed, freon, but as we just discussed, that won’t be the case for much longer.
Basic Laws Determining Refrigerant Usage
R410A is on the rise because of its comparatively safer for the environment than the other refrigerants used throughout our history. However, any chemical that can restructure the rules of thermodynamics needs to be watched closely and probably not handled with bare hands. Thus, the EPA has dolled out a few guidelines to keep everyone with or without an EPA certification safe while using refrigerants of any kind, but especially R410A.
The main law is that technicians need to do their utmost to retrieve, recycle and carefully dispose of any refrigerant as safely as possible. So, if you’re trying to dispose of some freon, down the garbage disposal probably isn’t the best idea. Additionally, it’s important to avoid venting refrigerant. There must be low-loss construction on all cooling appliances with refrigerant to limit the amount of refrigerant released during use while purging, disconnecting or connecting cooling appliances. It’s important to also watch out for appliances that are using discontinued refrigerants and go about disposing of those according to the EPA’s rules and regulations.
Issues like refrigerant leaks have to be repaired within 30 days of discovery, and sooner if possible. There’s also a law about who can buy and use a refrigerant that outlines only licensed HVAC technicians and repair shops are allowed to purchase refrigerant at all. Any violation of the laws set down by the EPA results in terrible fines and harsh punishments that can include fees up to $37,500 per day of non-compliance. That’s enough to put any budding business out of commission.
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If you’re interested in pursuing the right EPA certifications, you’ll need to be armed with the right education and preparation. Access excellent courses and study materials to prepare you for the test so you can become EPA certified for your specific specialties now. Knowing plenty about refrigerants and the EPA’s understanding of refrigerants, after all, won’t be enough to get you certified or help you avoid that $37,50 per day fine. Arm yourself with the right knowledge and the right certifications now.