An Explosive Situation
Sooner or later an HVAC technician is going to get seriously injured or killed. Only then, it appears, will government authorities take action.
The Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) is stepping up its campaign to prevent the sale of hydrocarbon refrigerants as homeowner do-it-yourself (DIY) air conditioning repair kits.
But in the three years since the HRAI began lobbying government authorities and retail establishments these kits have become even more widely available. Now HRAI is targeting fire marshals with the message. Perhaps they will understand the dangers of putting an extremely flammable mixture of propane and isobutene into systems designed for and charged with non-flammable refrigerants.
The danger is obvious, to anyone in the industry anyway. The typical scenario would go as follows:
The homeowner’s air conditioning system isn’t working. He/she decides to save a few dollars by purchasing one of these DIY kits at the local big box store and then injects the refrigerant into the system, carefully following the instructions of course. The system still doesn’t provide adequate cooling, so they reluctantly call in an air conditioning contractor. The technician, not knowing that the homeowner has been messing with the system, starts working on it and fires up a torch. Kaboom!
Not so fast, say the manufacturers and perhaps even the retailers of these kits. Hydrocarbon refrigerants are widely used in Europe and other places. This may be true, but they were never intended to be mixed with R22, R404a or any of the other refrigerants we commonly use in North America. They are not approved for use in our air conditioning systems. The repair technician is not expecting to find them there.
This is a case of do-it-yourself being taken to a ridiculous extreme. If a homeowner changes a faucet, they may get a little wet and cause some property damage, but the end result won’t likely be fatal.
But that’s not the case when it comes to working with refrigerants – or natural gas and electricity for that matter. There is a good reason why technicians in these fields are trained and licensed.
We see a lack of action from authorities at the same time governments are forcing a very difficult and expensive switch to lead-free plumbing products for potable water systems despite a complete lack of evidence that the current low-lead products represent any kind of a hazard.
Unfortunately, the evidence in the case of hydrocarbon refrigerants will likely come in the form of a fatality or serious injury to someone in our industry. Hopefully the fire marshals step in before that happens.