Fight Climate Change at Home by Managing Refrigerants

by Michael Helme, New Yorkers for Cool Refrigerant Management

If you’re reading this blog you’ve probably heard Project Drawdown figured out refrigerant management is the #1 solution to drawing down greenhouse gases. And after wrapping your head around how these obscure gases that are measured in parts per billion can add so much to the climate crisis, perhaps you also thought the problem was something for the engineers or policy makers to do something about, which is certainly true.

In today’s blog I’d like to point out three actions that allow homeowners to play a role in properly managing refrigerants. These three actions then form the outline of the broader actions and policies industries and governments can adopt. 

  1. Properly Recycle Appliances with Refrigerants. 

Because appliances are built in factories and are well sealed, it’s unlikely they will leak refrigerants. And it’s only leaking refrigerants that become greenhouse gases. So, when an appliance with refrigerants reaches the end of its working life (such as a window air conditioner, or a dehumidifier, refrigerator or freezer), the owner should find out how those appliances are supposed to be recycled in their community and do the right thing. 

How important is this? Properly recycling five window air conditioners reduces our collective greenhouse gas footprint by the equivalent of taking the average car off the road for a year

  1. When You Get New Appliances, Find Ones with Low-GWP Refrigerants.

The manufacturers do not advertise it much, but many commonly used appliances now come with refrigerants like R290 and R600 that are not intense greenhouse gases and can safely be vented to the atmosphere. How can you tell which ones these are? As of this writing, manufacturer and store websites don’t spell out which refrigerants are used. But if you look on the specs panel, such as in the picture below, you’ll see which one is used. Avoid buying new appliances that use R410 or R134; always pick one that uses R600 or R290. 

  1. When Working with an HVAC Tech, Make Sure They Follow the Rules.

If you have a central air-conditioning system in your home, you should be hiring an EPA-certified HVAC tech to do the maintenance and repairs. When a central air conditioning system is drained, either to test for leaks or at end of life, the law says all of the refrigerant in the system should be captured and taken for reclamation. Because the EPA and state regulators have a nearly impossible time monitoring the work of HVAC technicians in the field, it is a common practice throughout the industry to take shortcuts and simply cut the lines, which releases all the refrigerant. Another common shortcut is to top off a leaking system instead of properly fixing the leak.  If you are hiring someone to do this kind of work, be sure to discuss with them your concern about the greenhouse gases involved and get a positive confirmation they are following the law when they work for you.

These three items for homeowners can also be scaled up for industries and governments: 

  • A. All Equipment with Refrigerants Should be Properly Handled at End of Life

Beyond properly taking care of residential appliances at end of life, there are other, bigger uses of refrigerants that we need to be doing a better job with. This includes everything from getting refrigerants out of cars and vehicles at the end of life to properly draining chillers in grocery stores, air conditioning systems for large buildings, ice rinks, and so forth. 

  • B. Adopt the New Generation of Refrigerants

Besides home appliances, there is a strong international movement afoot to switch over everything that runs on refrigerants to newer refrigerants that are much less potent greenhouse gases. From new automotive refrigerants to natural refrigerants for grocery stores and beyond, this is an important change for us to adopt and encourage.

  • C. Put Policies in Place that Support Best Practices in the HVAC Industry

If there were more incentives for capturing refrigerants and better oversight, the HVAC industry could be capturing lots more refrigerants. The right policies could make a big difference.

Do Re Mi

Is it oversimplifying things to say understanding refrigerant management is as simple as 1, 2, 3 and A, B, C? Well, the do re mi of this message is we believe it’s important for wide circles of citizens in our society to be informed about these things. And that’s the work of New Yorkers for Cool Refrigerant Management. If you can contribute by participating in our work, donating some coin or hosting a presentation, that would be great. Or if you can subscribe to this blog and circulate it among your family, friends and co-workers, that’s also a contribution we would appreciate. 

Thank you for reading. Please send us your comments and questions.