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Key Changes in Air Conditioning Repairs

RELEASED ON 5/17/24

Gain Crucial Insights into the Future of Air Conditioning Repairs in 2025: Expert Guidance from Host Paul Rhodes to Keep Your Maintenance Operations Ahead of the Curve

[Paul Rhodes] (0:00 - 27:17) Hi there, everybody. This is Paul Rhodes, host of the Maintenance Mindset podcast. Thank you for joining me today.

In today's episode, we're going to be talking about impending and incoming changes to our air conditioning repairs on-site and how those changes are going to affect what we need to do. Or, actually, are we? Let's take a moment before we start for a word from our sponsor.

This episode is sponsored today by Appwork. Appwork is much more than maintenance. In addition to being one of our founding sponsors, Appwork is advanced business intelligence.

Streamline maintenance workflows and keep an eye on the leaderboard as your service teams enjoy the gamification of maintenance. Visit appworkco.com and transform your productivity today. All right. Before we get into it, though, I do want to make a request of you. I mean, we've been together now for a few times, and if not, I hope you go back and listen to the other episodes that we've talked about. But as we begin today's topic, I want to make a request.

My request is that if you are familiar with a maintenance technician or somebody working on-site maintenance, regardless of what their role is, I'd like to request you talk with them about this particular resource. Maintenance mindset is a podcast, is a recording, is a way of providing a discussion and an education primarily focused and aimed at bettering the job and the role that our on-site maintenance technicians play. Today's topic is one that is extremely important.

Throughout my career of educating since 2005, one of the primary topics that I've had the privilege of talking about is air conditioning. And I admit going in, I'm a little bit of a refrigerant or a refrigeration nerd, meaning that I find that topic interesting. The science, the physics, all of everything that goes into air conditioning, I find particularly fascinating.

And while knowing the difference between R410A and R22 all the way back to R12 and the historical legislative impact for where that came from might be a topic that doesn't exactly float your boat, over time, this particular topic that we're looking at today has provided a lot of mobility throughout my career, both internal with my existing company. And not only that, it's allowed me the ability to speak to others. I've been a speaker quite frequently for the National Apartment Association, for podcasts on the national stage, and on various associations related to how air conditioning and educating our technicians on the proper use of air conditioning works.

So what I'm getting at here is if you happen to know someone who fits into that category, my ask is that you show this particular episode to them. Our topic today is one that is very, very broad. I mean, it begins with the fact that beginning January of next year, the systems that we use today will no longer be made, meaning every system that we have right now that is being produced new for our garden style and some of our mid-rise style apartments is a system that contains a refrigerant that's identified as R410A.

Now, R410A is currently going through a phase down. It actually began two years ago. And that phase down will mean that decreasing quantities of that particular refrigerant will be produced every year until the mid-2030s.

So it's a long-term phase down. Again, you notice I keep using the word down. We're not getting rid of R410A.

We're just decreasing it a lot. Now, basic economics laws of supplies and demand means that the price of R410A, because the supply is going down. And if you've had any discussions surrounding your air conditioning suppliers and the repairs that we're going to be making on it, you will notice that the price of R410A has already started to creep upward.

Well, that creep is expected to, by the end of this summer, go much, much larger, and it will not ever be as cheap as it is today. My ask is that we begin educating ourselves as an industry and as individuals as well. I'm not saying you have to become a nerd like me when it comes to this refrigerant.

But I am saying it's a very, very good idea. Even if you are not performing refrigerant repairs, the effects are going to be widespread. Beginning next year, every system that is made, that is manufactured and imported into our country, into the United States, will contain one of two refrigerants.

The scary part of this transition is none of those systems are available today. I'm recording this in May of 2024. The two new refrigerants are identified as R32 and R454B.

And those systems are not widespread produced right now today. That means seven months from now, the systems that we're going to be buying on our properties will be brand new, and our maintenance technicians will never have seen those systems before. Before we get involved in discussing those changes and what that will look like, I do want to take a moment and talk about what we should already be doing.

You see, again, I'm a nerd. I find the legislative and the implications of the new regulatory environment fascinating. But at the end of the day, maintenance mindset as a show is designed to be actionable.

In other words, not only are we looking to discuss topics or information, we're looking for how that applies to our maintenance technicians on site or the leaders of our maintenance technicians. So what that means for us and the discussion for the rest of our time together today is really to understand that while, yes, the new refrigerants that are coming, the new systems that use those refrigerants that are coming to our industry do have some, boy, that's a loaded word, do have some changes that our technicians are required to learn about. The vast majority of the way that we service these new systems should, another loaded word, if I'm honest, not one I'm particularly a fan of, but I digress.

The new systems that are coming should utilize the same techniques, the same servicing that we already use, provided our technicians are already performing repairs. Now, that's a lot of loaded information. Let's talk about what that means, what our technicians are already expected to be doing in order to service our equipment correctly.

First, leaders on site, can you put your hands on the refrigerant log that your maintenance technicians are expected to be using? You see, now, this log that we're referring to is actually required by law. Back in the late 90s, there was an EPA certification that was put into place.

It's called EPA Section 608. That certification, administrative in nature, is designed to require technicians who perform refrigerant repairs to be able to prove that they're performing repairs correctly and that they are using refrigerant correctly. And by that, meaning that refrigerant is only allowed to be in one of two places, either in a tank or in a system.

If that refrigerant is released out to the air, that's illegal. It's a portion of the Refrigerant Ozone Protection Act that was put into place. By the way, those rules still exist, and they are still in place for the new refrigerants that are coming out in the new systems next year.

What that means is every time refrigerant is used at your property, there is supposed to be a log, a documentation of where that refrigerant went, how much was used, and why it was used. Our technicians already are expected to know this. So I'll go back to the original questions.

Leaders, can you put your hands on a physical log of what your refrigerant looks like today, and does it match your current records? If not, then you're already missing one piece of what we're required to be doing for next year's change. That's an example of something that the expectation already exists, and it won't change based on the new equipment.

For instance, another thing that we are supposed to already be doing is performing recovery. Now, what recovery is is where we take refrigerant of whatever type we're using, whatever kind we're servicing that is already in use in the equipment that's existing for our residents today, and for whatever reason, we need to remove that refrigerant. The process of removing that refrigerant is called recovery.

Very simply, it's taking the refrigerant out of one system and putting it into a jug. That's recovery. However, if your maintenance technicians are performing refrigerant repairs, and you do not have a recovery jug that does not have logs associated with it, then we're, again, missing the mark with what will be required for next year.

Not only that, this plays a critical role in this R410A phase down. Our sponsor for today is Appwork. Best known for exceptional maintenance workflow management, Appwork offers so much more.

Optimize operations with its advanced business intelligence that turns data into strategy. Simplify your operations with Appwork's intuitive platform. Service team members love the gamification of maintenance workflows and leaderboards.

This makes everyday tasks a competition to be number one. From project management to team communication, Appwork has you covered. Visit appworkco.com today. You see, the way the legislation was written and the way it was created, an assumption was made that as we decrease the quantity of refrigerant that we make, that we manufacture new, as that goes down, the expectation is that the recovered R410A will be turned in to be reclaimed. That means that that R410A, the used R410A that is reclaimed, which that means you take the refrigerant, you hand it to a processor, to a group of scientists and chemists that return that refrigerant back to a useful state to where it can be resold again. Much like turning in our recyclables on the curb in the morning so that the trash company takes them, turns them in and brings them back as notebooks or as recycled plastic goods.

We're just talking here about doing it with refrigerants. The problem is, and it's a noted and recognized problem, that right now reclaimed quantities of R410A refrigerant are almost non-existent. Here's the challenge.

If your maintenance technicians are currently performing repair on R410A equipment and they have not turned any refrigerant in for reclamation, that's a problem. Again, this is something that we're already expected to be doing as maintenance technicians and it's a challenge. It's a challenge for multiple reasons across the board, but the first answer to that challenge is being aware of what those expectations are and ensuring our maintenance technicians are following up with them.

Another expectation. And here's where we begin to pull in potential confusion. You see, R410A is not the only refrigerant that is being used on our current properties.

Back in 2010, we did this same sort of manufacturing change that's going to happen in January of next year. You see, back in 2010, we stopped producing equipment that used an older form of refrigerant. That older form of refrigerant was even more detrimental to our environment.

That older form of refrigerant was based on R22 systems. That, for multitudes of scientific reasons, had to go away. They're all surrounding the ozone layer, and rather than run down that personally enjoyable rabbit hole, we're just going to keep it to the current discussion, to the current talk.

In 2010, we stopped manufacturing equipment that utilized R22. And in 2010, we started producing equipment that was R410A. Now, that R410A at the time was proposed to be the solution at the time.

Since then, due to more environmental concerns of a different nature, R410A has been found to be detrimental, and we are going into our current phase now of production reduction for R410A. But you see, that change when we went from R22 equipment to R410A equipment was very, very similar to what we're seeing right now, with one caveat. The caveat requires another rather big rabbit hole that we're not going to address today.

But suffice it to say that the refrigerant that is being produced for next year, R32 or R454B, those refrigerants are what is classified as mildly flammable. We didn't have to deal with that back in 2010. When we made the change from R22 to R410A, the same flammability ratings were allowed.

And what that means is that we could actually use significant portions of the R22 equipment that exists and replace only one part of the system to go to R410A. Not only that, we didn't even have to change systems at all. The price of R22 was going up, and it's still available today.

It is rather pricey. And the equipment that was using R22, now the newest of that equipment is 14 years old. That means that our R22 systems are really nearing, by and large, the end of their life.

That further compounds the issues that we're going to be dealing with beginning of January next year. You see, the expectations on how we work with R22 equipment are different. The reason why I say that is when we made the change from R22 to our current refrigerant, R410A, there was, by design in that transition back in 2010, a stopgap.

The stopgap was that because we're focused on the refrigerant, not so much on the equipment with that transition back in 2010, the focus was decreasing the ozone depleting agent, which was found in R22. So, replacement refrigerants for R22 equipment were made. You may have heard of MO99, or Choice, commonly referred to as the refrigerant numbers R438 or R421.

And there's a whole bunch of other numbers that are in there, 422, and that's where I get off into my nerdy rabbit hole. At the end of the day, when we made the transition back in 2010, we changed from R22 and HCFC to a refrigerant that was similar enough to R22. It would work in the existing R22 equipment, thereby allowing us to, through proper repairs, keep that R22 equipment operating.

It's different this time. You see, this time, if we need to make any equipment change from R410A, there is no stopgap. There is no what I hate, and if you're watching the video, you're going to see me use the scare quotes.

Meaning, where R422 was concerned, those refrigerants that were similar were referred to, and here's the scare quotes, as drop-in replacements. Drop-in replacements were actually designed to where you could remove the R22 out of your system and put the R438 or Choice or MO99 or whatever other refrigerant that was rated to be similar to R22 into the R22 equipment after you remove the R22 out. This time, this transition that's going to be happening from 410A to the R32 or R454B, there is no drop-in alternative.

Meaning, you will be using either equipment that contains R410A, a refrigerant that the price is going and expected to be continuing on the upward climb price-wise, or if for whatever reason, you can no longer use a portion of the R410A equipment. By portion, I mean condensing unit or outside or even inside unit of a heat pump. If you're talking about those major components that you have to, for whatever reason, replace from R410A beginning January of next year, those pieces of equipment.

Again, we're talking here about the whole condensing unit or the whole outside unit of your R410A system. If that fails and you can't repair it anymore, you must install. As of right now, the directive is we have to replace the whole system, both outside and inside pieces of our equipment.

The line set in between the two, the copper pipes that run in between the two might require replacement. This information is changing. The regulatory environment is being updated on a regular basis right now.

The EPA is doing things and making changes. Just in the past month, they have extended the amount of time. If you have R410A equipment stockpiled, they added a year to the amount of time that you're allowed to install that old R410A equipment.

The reason why I mention this goes back to my original ask. If you know of a maintenance technician who performs air conditioning repairs, my ask to you is share this podcast and other podcasts or webinars or other resources with them. Changes are coming rapidly, particularly where they involve air conditioning for our multifamily teams.

Please share that information. While you're here, if I could ask one more thing, whether you're listening to this or viewing this on YouTube or Spotify or Apple or whatever platform you're using, please hit the little bell notifier thing, whatever it is on your particular screen or phone. That way you can be notified whenever we have new shows coming out.

And go ahead and hit the subscription button too. I would urge, I don't think that's too strong. I'd also urge your maintenance teams to hit the subscription button as well because this air conditioning change is going to continue to go, to continue to move forward.

And it's built upon foundational information. And our maintenance technicians need to already be performing those foundational tasks. Things like logging, recovering, and reclaiming are going to continue to increase in their importance and since we still have seven months before this next large change occurs to the industry, there's no better time than now to begin performing those habits.

Thank you for joining me today and I will see you somewhere. Thank you again to AppWorks for sponsoring today's episode. Imagine carrying a digital make ready board in your pocket with work order tracking and maintenance technician leaderboards designed to gamify the process and bring out your team's competitive edge.

AppWork offers solutions to headaches that have plagued the multifamily industry for decades. Visit www.appworkco.com today.