2004: All HCFCs produced nationwide must be reduced by 35%.

2006: Minimum 13 SEER on residential equipment will necessitate larger charge requirements.

2010: Chemical manufacturers will stop producing HCFCs for use in new equipment.

2020: HCFCs will no longer be produced. Existing supplies, recovered and recycled refrigerant will be allowed beyond 2020 to service existing equipment.

There seems to be some confusion about the phase-out of HCFC refrigerants. I've noticed dates being tossed around, often incorrectly, sometimes as if they were doomsday scare tactics warning of Armageddon.

Per the Montreal Protocol implemented through the U.S. Clean Air Act, R-22 and other HCFC refrigerants will be phased out of production, and eventually, out of the U.S. market. HFCs, such as R410a, R407C, and R134a, will become the de facto refrigerants of choice. However, even the use of HFCs could be an interim solution for lessening the negative effects of ozone depletion, as HFCs are viewed as contributing to global warming. Europe and many other members of the global community are moving quickly to implement more aggressive refrigerant strategies.

As much as I'd like to bury my head in the sand, the truth is: HCFCs and even HFCs do, in fact, have some harmful effects upon our environment.

What entertains me nearly as much as those few contractors who cite disputed scientific
evidence as an excuse to continue irresponsible refrigerant management, are the refrigerant brand wars that exist. Granted, brand differentiation based upon refrigerant choice is a wonderful thing. It certainly makes galvanized screws passe'.

However, refrigerant mud-slinging isn't in the best interest of the industry. The U.S. Green Building Council recently found itself mired in the muck. Its proposed commercial building energy credits for refrigerants, through its LEED rating system, is knee-deep in controversy. Energy efficiency, ozone depletion, and global warming are the subjects of discussion regarding the merits of R-123 and R-134A, two chiller refrigerants.

In addition to the commercial refrigerant confusion, are choices about when contractors will move toward residential HFC alternatives.

R-410A is the front-running replacement refrigerant for the R-22 residential equipment market. (R-407C and R-134A are not readily available for residential applications in the U.S.) R-410A provides for cost-efficient designs of high efficiency equipment, and units built with it will likely surpass R-22 unit production some time after the SEER rating increase of 2006.

Some contractors have already begun the transition; others will wait until the last possible moment before the low pressure gauges are pried from their calloused hands.

The average life of a residential air conditioning unit is about 15 years. Perhaps it's time to do some simple math. To paraphrase the words of an old television commercial -- pay now, or pay later. Which would you prefer?