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Replace or modify? That is the question

Many facilities management companies and facilities managers  may be unaware of the changes in refrigerant legislation that could have a major effect on their business, following the latest element of legislation in the phasing out of R22 coming into effect.

It dictates that while you can run an R22 refrigerant-based AC unit, when it breaks down you may no longer repair it if any repairs undertaken on the unit involve the handling of the refrigerant. This includes not being permitted to reuse the refrigerant in the system.

The outcome of this legislation is that if an air conditioning system is currently operating using R22, it is on borrowed time. To ensure that any disruption to the working environment is kept to a minimum, it is important that a strategy is developed to deal with a failure scenario.

There are a few options facilities managers can adopt when dealing with the effects of this change.

Replacing the plant could lead to a number of advantages. Allowances can be made for any changes in building use or expected changes in building use, ensuring that the plant delivers the required cooling load. A new plant will also have a longer life than modified equipment. 

There are also disadvantages to replacing systems, the largest of which is the cost involved. Other considerations include the installation disruption and longer implementation time for the replacement project.

Modifying the plant to use a new refrigerant is another option. The advantages of this are a quick implementation when compared with replacement. In addition, the capital cost would also be lower. 

Disadvantages of choosing this path include the fact that the plant life would not be extended. As a result, the major capital expense of replacement will, at some point, still need to be incurred. The cooling capacity of the system could also reduce and the energy efficiency of the system may get worse.

For those who have yet to decide on their strategy, the time to develop an action plan is now. BSRIA recommends that you take the following three steps:

1. Identify all the equipment using R22. Ensure this covers all equipment including air conditioning and, where appropriate, refrigeration equipment.

2. Develop a database of information about each piece of plant. Examples of the information to be incorporated include quantities of refrigerant in the system, system age, expected life span, current cooling load and any anticipated future cooling load and plant design details – including component details.

3. Evaluate your priorities and decide on the most appropriate option: replace or modify. To make the best decision, it is important to be in possession of the relevant information, which is why it is important to ensure that steps 1 and 2 are carried out.

Mike Smith is director of engineering at BSRIA

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