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After the ban, what’s really changed?

At midnight on 31 December 2014, new regulations came into place requiring any establish-ment with air conditioning or cooling systems to comply with strict new regulations or risk significant expense. But months on from the deadline, has anything really changed?

As you are no doubt aware, all HCFC refrigerants were prohibited in line with the new EC regulations, with R22 the most commonly used refrigerant affected by the change.

It caused rumblings across a wide range of industries, from food manufacture to hospitality, IT to healthcare, all of which faced a clear deadline to act.

Many companies – especially the larger ones – reacted quickly, setting up and acting upon a plan to phase out the refrigerant, usually in line with an upcoming service visit from their contractor.

There is a problem, however: there remain a number of companies of all sizes that have yet to take the appropriate action.

While putting a figure on this is difficult, we do know that as of last year there were around 750,000 air conditioning plants that contained R22 and were still in operation throughout the UK.

The legal implications of the phase-out are set out by the government and came into effect on 1 January.

First, although basic servicing of non-compliant units can still take place, if there are any parts that break, degrade or otherwise become inoperable a contractor is unable to complete any repair until all traces of R22 have been eradicated and replaced.

This could cause significant delays and downtime, especially for any company relying on air conditioning as a mission-critical operational function.

Companies also have a duty of care for the environment, and as R22 is an ozone-depleting CFC it falls under any applicable environmental and waste management protocols.

If you are one of those companies yet to respond to the changes, the important thing is not to panic. While equipment containing R22 is not in a serviceable condition, as long as there are no problems or losses of refrigerant from the system you still have time to rectify this problem.

It is also worth noting that while existing units can be brought back into a serviceable condition by “flushing” the refrigerant from the system and replacing it with a more environmentally friendly alternative, this is a much less efficient solution than replacing the units with modern models and may lead to higher overall running costs in the long run.

The phase-out is an opportunity for companies to upgrade their air conditioning equipment to modern, more efficient and reliable standards. Any equipment designed to run on R22 will be of a considerable age by 2015 and less efficient than up-to-date models – so the initial outlay of the purchase of new equipment could be paid for by the savings in running costs very quickly.

Ian Gabrielides is business development and HVAC manager at Pickerings

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