New Refrigeration Rules

In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued rules that ban some of the most commonly used refrigerants in the commercial foodservice marketplace including R-404A, R-507 and R-134A. These regulations were enacted to decrease the use of chemicals that contribute to greenhouse gas effects and global warming. Operators should become aware of the upcoming changes in order to make the right decision on replacing equipment. Get a glimpse of what you need to know.

The plans call for phasing out hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) refrigerants over the next few years while at the same time replacing them with a list of newly approved yet unproven options. Some of the recently acceptable refrigerants include R-448A, R-449A, R-450, propane and isobutene. The EPA has also suggested more environmentally friendly alternatives.

Awareness of these upcoming changes can help operators with the decision process when considering options to repair, replace or even retrofit existing equipment.  While new capital expenditures lend themselves toward purchasing the latest specifications, the repair or replacement can be a bit more complex given the future conversions.

The types of systems involved are also a key determining factor – large systems like walk- in coolers or freezers might justify the expense to repair or retrofit, while a reach-in or under counter unit may not.  The equipment not impacted by the current changes include blast chillers, ice machines (unless connected to supermarket systems), very low-temp refrigeration and food and beverage dispensing systems.

An important note to keep in mind is that existing equipment can remain in service throughout its lifetime and the EPA regulations only need to be followed during a replacement or retrofit. “Any retrofit completed after July 20, 2016 must comply with the new rules.”

Compliance dates for new equipment:

  • January 1, 2017 – Supermarket systems, remote condensing units and vending machines
  • January 1, 2019 – Small stand-alone medium temperature units
  • January 1, 2020 – Large stand-alone medium temperature units

Experience with other phase outs also tells us that the laws of supply and demand will likely come into play – as the ongoing availability of the newly banned refrigerants shrinks, prices on equipment with compliant refrigerants will surely rise.

If you’re faced with a non-functioning unit, check to see if the equipment with one of the newly approved chemicals is available.  Some manufacturers are already producing items that make use of these new refrigerants, and it may make more long-term sense to replace than repair.  You get the benefit of being as prepared for the future as possible and a new warranty period to boot.