Dangers of Refrigerant Gases
Summer is here and most people are getting A/C tune-ups and check-ups to make sure their air conditioner will make it through the entire season at peak performance levels.
A potential hazard when servicing air conditioners is the mishandling of refrigerant gases, which could cause severe irritation and frostbite if it comes in contact with your skin and eyes. Inhalation dangers also occur when oxygen levels in air are reduced to 12-14% by displacement, causing symptoms of asphyxiation, loss of coordination, increased pulse rate and deeper respiration. At high levels, cardiac arrhythmia may occur; however, high levels are rarely present in a residential setting. Further information on potential health hazards can be found at www.refrigerants.com.
To Avoid the Danger of Refrigerant Gases we’ve listed 5 recommendations:
1 – Get an HVAC professional to conduct the work, not just a guy that can “repair any appliance”
The most important variable in the proper handling of refrigerant gases is the individual that will be working on your equipment. Before hiring an HVAC company and getting a technician over, ask the company if all their technicians are certified to handle refrigerant and how often they provide regular training.
When the technician arrives at your home, ask him/her to show you his/her individual CFC certification Card (Required by the EPA). This will be proof they are individually certified to handle refrigerant gases.
One of the typical mistakes untrained techs make is not allowing the air conditioner to run for a few minutes before reading refrigerant levels. If the A/C does not work for approximately 10 minutes before taking the measurement, the technician will get an inaccurate reading of the refrigerant level. Failure to take the time to ask these general questions could cause the technician to wrongly diagnose a problem. Make sure to get a trained professional. To learn more read the 3 Ways to Know if You are Getting a Great A/C Tune-up.
2 – If your A/C is not cooling properly, don’t automatically assume you need more refrigerant
It is important for an air conditioner or heat pump to have the correct amount of refrigerant, or correct refrigerant charge. An improperly charged system may consume more energy and provide less dehumidification.
As stated before, to check the level of refrigerant, the equipment must first run for several minutes (never in extreme cold conditions) and then adjusted, if necessary, to make your home comfortable and to avoid unnecessarily high utility bills.
Once the refrigerant level is corrected, properly working A/Cs do not need to be recharged every year. Air Conditioners are designed to be sealed systems; these systems do not “consume” refrigerant, but use it to extract the heat from the air. If your system requires refrigerant every year, that’s a sign of malfunction, possibly a leak in the system, and repair of the leak itself is necessary.
Additionally, there is a difference between small and big leaks. Big leaks are easy to spot because the system will stop cooling after a day or two. Small leaks are harder to spot and thorough leak repair might be necessary and costly. They might be located in refrigerant lines that run through a wall, or another location that is difficult to detect. It takes an engaged customer to ask for a thorough analysis of the situation. Simply asking for more refrigerant could mislead the contractor to make a temporary “fix” and do the wrong thing for the environment.
3 – Hold your Contractor accountable to the highest level of service
A/C season can be short. Contractors need to make the most of it, which is why some may cut corners. For example, by not storing or recycling refrigerant gases properly. Instead of dealing with finding and repairing holes in aging units, they pump in more coolant to avoid a more complicated solution (that will take more time). They “fix” that unit by emitting more gases to the atmosphere. Needless to say, this short fix makes the air conditioner run for just a day or two after that.
Despite the possible $10,000 fine, contractors may not have the necessary equipment to extract the refrigerant or test it to determine whether the refrigerant is contaminated or not (and could qualify for re-use). Ask the company if they will be recovering and recycling the refrigerant gas from your old air conditioner.
4 – Refrigerant gases need the proper handling of a well-trained and equipped professional
Refrigerant gases are harmful to the ozone layer, and proper handling is necessary to prevent any damage to the environment (and to the people handling it).
The individual that services an Air Conditioner needs to be continually trained and certified by the EPA to handle refrigerant gases. In addition to have a CFC certification card, the technician needs to be properly equipped to recover the refrigerant from the unit safely and to test the refrigerant to determine whether to recycle or dispose of the contaminated gas.
5 – Old A/Cs need proper disposal and recycling procedures
To conduct the proper recycling of old Air Conditioners, the refrigerant needs to be removed from the old A/C before the equipment is removed. After that, at Standard Heating, our technicians take the existing equipment out, put it the truck, and return it to our Minneapolis building. Upon arrival at our facility, we dismantle the old A/C, separating the toxic components for appropriate disposal, and the scrap metal and aluminum (copper/brass) for recycling.
In addition, we have the equipment and training necessary to test the refrigerant extracted from an old air conditioning system. By knowing whether the refrigerant is good or contaminated, we can send the good refrigerant for re-use and the contaminated one for disposal. The EPA requires companies that recycle this refrigerant to be certified by the regional office (EPA). Read more in our blog.
To avoid the dangers of refrigerant gas mishandling, ask for the highest level of service from a well-trained and equipped HVAC professional. Don’t automatically assume you need more refrigerant and make sure the company disposes and recycles the old system, if you decide to replace your Air Conditioner. For more information on the purchasing of new HVAC equipment read the 5 Typical Misconceptions when Buying New HVAC Equipment.