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EPA Warns About Dangerous R-22 Substitutes for Air Conditioning

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a warning to homeowners, propane manufacturers, home improvement contractors and air conditioning technicians regarding the unapproved use of propane as a substitute for R-22 refrigerant, used in older model air conditioning units. The United States is phasing out the use of R-22 refrigerant as part of an international treaty agreement to reduce the effects of climate change.

The EPA is investigating claims of injuries and explosions resulting from the unauthorized substitution of propane to recharge air conditioning units. As a substitute refrigerant, propane is marketed as R-290, 22a, 22-A, R-22a, HC-22a, and CARE 40. Residential and commercial R-22 air conditioning units are not fitted to handle propane as a refrigerant, and the use of propane in these units poses a serious safety risk, especially to homeowners and air conditioning technicians.

Propane is authorized for use as a substitute refrigerant in certain commercial freezers and refrigerators, but the EPA has never authorized its use in air conditioners of any kind. Homeowners are cautioned to avoid using propane with any appliance that is not specifically labeled as propane-ready.

The temptation to use a “substitute” refrigerant for R-22 is high, since R-22 is being phased out, its cost is rising and the supply of R-22 is dwindling. As tempting as it may be, there’s no good reason to compromise the safety of your family to save a few dollars. If you have an older air conditioning unit that requires a recharge, new R-22 is still available and will be produced through 2020 for servicing purposes. After 2020, new R-22 will not be produced, and only reclaimed, recycled R-22 will be available for servicing.

The older your air conditioning unit is, the less efficient it is. Over time, inefficient units become even less efficient. Newly produced units are much more efficient to operate, use more ecologically friendly refrigerants and may even be eligible for tax credits and interest-free financing options.

At Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, we use only the refrigerants that are recommended for your air conditioning units during servicing. If you would like more information about air conditioning, air conditioning maintenance or would like us to safely recharge your R-22 air conditioning unit, please call us at (617) 288-2911 to set up an appointment.

A Little Boston Air Conditioner Maintenance Goes A Long Way!

With the snow having finally melted in Boston, and the temperatures are rising once again, Spring is definitely here. After such a hard winter in Boston, air conditioner maintenance might not be the first thing on homeowners’ minds. Soon enough however, temperatures will rise into the 70’s and 80’s and A/C will be the order of the day.

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating is ready to help you inspect, repair and maintain your home’s air conditioning system. After a hard winter like the one we’ve had, a little spring cleaning may be in order. Outdoor air conditioning units accumulate lots of debris, especially from falling leaves, seeds, and petals from flowering trees. Spring cleaning will pay off handsomely, and will help your outdoor unit remain trouble-free. Getting rid of the debris is Job #2. Job #1 is always safety. In this case, that means cutting the power to the A/C unit.

The outdoor portion of your home’s air conditioning system includes the compressor and an electric motor, which make a lot of noise and heat. Compressors and motors are usually self-contained and don’t require much maintenance. You will need to remove the cover on the unit to inspect and clean the condenser coil. Removing the cover usually involves basic hand tools and isn’t hard to do. Carefully remove the cover and do not touch the condenser “fins” with your hands. Fins are made of soft, wavy metal. Bending the fins will reduce the unit’s efficiency.

Take a look at the uncovered unit. Check for oil leaks or accumulation around fittings and near hoses. These are all signs of leaking. If you notice that a compressor is leaking oil, however, that’s a good sign that a repair is in your future. Don’t try to tighten fittings that appear to be leaking. Instead, give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, at (617) 288-2911 and let us take a look.

Some electric motors require lubrication at the beginning of the season. If your motor has an oil port, consult the owner’s manual to see how much oil should be added. You can find oil for an electric motor at a hardware or home improvement store. Usually, you’ll need to add just a few drops. Note that some motors are sealed and don’t require additional lubrication.

Included in the box with the compressor is the condenser coil, which has a fan. The fan’s job is to pull outside air through the condenser coil. Along with air, however, the fan also pulls a lot of debris into the condenser coil and reduces the unit’s efficiency. Sweep out or remove by hand any debris that you can reach easily. Using a garden hose, gently wash the fins to remove any remaining debris. Allow the unit to dry.

Inside your home, you’ll need to clean the evaporator unit, which will be located somewhere near the furnace. The evaporator also has fins, so work gently around your evaporator. Use a very soft brush to clean the fins or gently vacuum the unit to remove any accumulated dust, dirt and debris. If the evaporator doesn’t look approachable, looks like it’s been leaking, you can’t locate it, or you know where it is but can’t reach it, contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating and we’ll be happy to lend a hand.

Finally, make sure all drain hoses or drain lines are free of debris and accumulation. If you discover biological growth in your drain lines, you can use BioClean, a natural, enzymatic drain cleaner to clear your drain lines. Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating stocks BioClean, and it’s safe and easy to use.

Once the outside unit has dried, reattach the cover and fasten it in place. (Don’t store anything on top of or around the unit, either!) Re-apply the power and test your system. If you run into problems, Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating offers standard and emergency repair services and we’re on call 24-hours a day! Contact us today at (617) 288-2911 for more information or to schedule an inspection. Find out for yourself why Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating was named the Best of Boston 2010!

New R410 A/C Refrigerant A Split Decision For Boston Air Conditioning?

If nothing beats air conditioning on a hot day, you’ll want to learn about some changes coming to a Boston air conditioning unit near you! For years, the standard refrigerant used in air conditioning was a formulation known as R11 or R12, and more commonly by its DuPont trade name, Freon.

As a chlorofluorcarbon, (CFC), Freon was phased out of most cooling applications beginning in 1994 because it severely damaged the Earth’s ozone layer. Freon was largely replaced with a compound known as R22, a hydrochlorofluorocarbon compound (HCFC). R22 was an intermediate replacement for R12 and is now itself being replaced by R410A, combination of two refrigerant gases, difluoromethane and pentafluoroethane. (And you thought that skipping Chemistry was a good idea!)

Unfortunately, R22 generates a by-product called Hydrofluorocarbon-23 (HFC23), which is also known to deplete the ozone layer and is a recognized contributor to global warming. R410A doesn’t deplete the ozone layer the way R22 does, so that’s good, but R410A (also called R410 or Puron) still contributes to global warming through the by-production of greenhouse gases.

Ok. Let’s get out of the clouds and down to the ground. For homeowners, most residential cooling units use R22. R22 will still be produced to recharge existing units until 2020, when it is phased out of production completely. After 2020, R22 will be a “dead man walking,” in that it can still be recycled, but new R22 won’t be produced for old units. The life expectancy of recycled R22 is no more than about five years, so 2025 is considered a “drop dead” date for R22.

R410A is not a replacement for R22 since R410A requires a much higher operating pressure to achieve cold temperatures. Older AC units designed to use R22 will have to be replaced once the last of the R22 refrigerant is gone. As of January 1, 2010, R410A is used exclusively in the manufacture of new A/C units in North America, and the debate is heating up as to its effectiveness.

A common concern about R410A is that the refrigerant isn’t very effective as a coolant when the outside temperatures exceed 90°F. That’s not entirely true. R410A loses capacity and efficiency faster than R22 does once the outside temperature reaches 90°F, but the coolant works very well, even in outside temperatures at or above 120°F.

So what does this mean for the Boston homeowner? The average summertime high temperature in Boston is 82°F. That’s not to say that Boston never exceeds 90°F in July or August. In fact, the highest temperature on record (1911) for the City of Boston was 104°F but on average, the number of days above 90°F are limited. Many installers report that their overall experiences with R410A units are very positive and the units perform well under most conditions.

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating offers air-conditioning service for both older and newer residential A/C units. If you’re having difficulty with your A/C unit, or would like to have it assessed, recharged, cleaned or inspected, Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can help! We stock both R22 and R410A refrigerants and can help you no matter what kind of A/C unit you’re using.

Contact us today at (617) 288-2911 for more information or to schedule an inspection. We also perform emergency service and repair work on air conditioning systems. We’re on-call 24 hours a day, and that’s one reason Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating was named the Best of Boston 2010!