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Talking refrigerant safety

By Richard Hawkins, MACS contributor

Note: This is a continuation of last week’s article about refrigerant safety.  If you haven’t already read that article, it can be found at this link.

It was recapping a conversation that took place several years ago with a customer about the use of some highly flammable refrigerant. 

The last line of the conversation covered in the article stated the following:

Me:  I know that is a huge increase percentage wise but you’re in the same boat as everyone else doing A/C work, so it isn’t something that is going to put you at a competitive disadvantage. 

Can I ask you a question?

Refrigerant tank on a recovery machine

Now we will pick up where we left off.

Shop Owner:  Sure.

Me:  What is the average amount of a repair order for A/C work at your shop?

Shop Owner:   I don’t know right off the top of my head.  It can vary from $50.00 for some diagnostics and a recharge up to over $1000.00 for a compressor job.  (NOTE: Remember this was the mid 2000s and A/C work cost less then.)

Me:  OK.  What if we use $500.00 as the average amount of an A/C work order?

Shop Owner:  OK. 

Me:  What would you say is the average refrigerant capacity of the A/C systems you work on?

Shop Owner:  Refrigerant capacities can vary quite a bit. There are some now that only hold a pound and then you have those dual systems that hold about 3 pounds.

Me:  Yes, they do vary.  How about if we use 1 1/2 pounds as the average size system.  (The average size system is smaller than that now.  But remember this was the mid 2000s.)

Shop Owner:  OK

Me:  Last year at $100.00 for a 30-pound cylinder, 1 1/2 pounds of R-134a would have cost you about $5.00.  This year at $300.00 for a 30-pound cylinder, 1 1/2 pounds of R-134a will cost you about $15.00. That of course is $10.00 more. That is three times as much, but it is only a small percentage of the total amount of the work order. 

I won’t complicate this by getting into what you retailed refrigerant for last year or what you would be retailing it for this year, but a $10.00 increase in parts or supplies for a $500.00 job is 2%.  If the price of a compressor or other part increased by $10.00 you wouldn’t think twice about.

You would just apply your standard profit margin to the higher priced part. That’s what most shops will be doing with the higher priced refrigerant.  With the potential problems that the use of highly flammable refrigerants can cause, it isn’t worth it to try to save $10.00.

Shop Owner:  That is a good point, but I feel like I’m getting ripped off paying $300.00 for a jug of R-134a.  I’m going to talk to the guy that sells the new refrigerant again before I decide.  

(Despite so many compelling reasons not to use this highly flammable refrigerant, I hadn’t been able to get the message across, so I decided to try a different approach.)

 Me: Can I ask you another question?

Shop Owner:  Sure.

Me:  You’ve taken time to talk to me about this and plan to get some more information from the guy who is selling this refrigerant before you decide.  That indicates to me that you’re someone who also likely gets as much information as possible about the nature of an A/C problem before you start any sort of diagnostics.

Shop Owner:  Absolutely.  The more information you have the better.

Me:  OK.  So, let’s say I brought my car in to your shop with an A/C problem and described what was going on with it. You might ask me if myself or someone else had worked on it.  Right?

Shop Owner:  Yes.

Me:  Suppose I told you that I had rigged up a hose and some adapters and connected the A/C system to the tank on my barbeque grill and charged it up?

Shop Owner:  OK.  I see what you mean.  I wouldn’t want to work on your car and since you stated it like that, I think I will be better off if I steer clear of this stuff.   Thanks for taking the time to call me.

Me:  You’re welcome.

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One response to “Talking refrigerant safety”

  1. Thomas Lech says:

    Here’s one thing automotive technicians do not take an account because they have not taken refrigerant engineering classes and completely mastered the concept the basics of oil return flow and refrigerant velocity in systems specially with long hose runs from a rear evaporator unit.

    When switching over to something like R290 for R600 what’s are some of the best refrigerants on earth.
    Because it’s instead of 1 pound mass quantity of refrigerant in a given space you will have something like 3 ounces or less.

    The suction line diameter was designed for a mass of refrigerant a volume quantity that would flow at a given velocity that A’s in excellent oil return.
    When switching over the same diameter lines and just substituting another refrigerant that only has 1/4 of a mass volume it does not quite flow at the same velocity‘s as the refrigerant that it was originally designed for.

    Yes the Refrigerant its self the flammable refrigerant is absolutely excellent refrigerant for cooling. And it was a perfectly designed excellent refrigerant for Hydro carbon-based lubricants. It does work with POE oil but not the same it did with hydrocarbon-based oils of the past long gone from the days of R12.

    Now you have a receiver dryer that was based on a large massive refrigerant 1 pound or 2 pound it is very wide in diameter and tall because it’s going to be loaded up with liquid refrigerant.

    Now only put 3 ounces or 5 ounces in that same system that was designed for somewhere around a pound and a half and because the receiver dryer is very wide the level of that little bit of hydrocarbon refrigerant would just about being near the point at the bottom of the receiver dryer were the pick up Tube will be sucking vapor refrigerant especially as soon as some of the charge leaks out of the hydrocarbon refrigerant lowering its quantity mass so the pick up tube and the bottom of the receiver starts picking up vapor hydrocarbon refrigerant feeding partial vapor back to the expansion valve.

    Receiver dryers for hydrocarbon systems are designed much narrower and smaller so they can raise the level of the refrigerant inside the receiver dryer so there’s ample room between the top level the refrigerant down to the bottom level of the pick up straw.

    This is what happens when mandatory education in automotive industry is not enforced. And this goes for the residential and commercial HVAC and HVAC/R

    Hydrocarbon refrigerants would be an excellent refrigerant in automotive and I fully embrace it and I believe it should be used myself personally with properly designed evaporators because the entire charge of a system on a properly designed highly efficient system would be somewhere around 3 to 5 ounces.

    And a properly designed hydrocarbon based refrigerant system in a glycolop system what completely keeps the hydrocarbon refrigerant out in the engine bay or by the time this happens out where all the electric batteries are or inverters because gasoline engines will probably be mostly gone by the time we switch over to hydrocarbon refrigerants.

    Like BMWs model that takes the discharge off of the compressor and goes about 10 or 12 inches directly into a glycol plate heat exchanger with A glycol pump to circulate glycol to a front heat exchanger in front of the car to get rid of the heat of the compressor. Then you would take that chill hydrocarbon refrigerant that has been dropped in temperature if that is now a liquid directly to expansion valve mounted to the same receiver expansion valve assembly with a second plate heat exchanger to a glycol loop pumping let’s say 26° temperature chilled glycol into the passenger cabin compartment to Eva operator so there was absolutely no chance of a leak in evaporator that could cause an explosion .

    In this scenario the passenger would be completely safe and the flammable refrigerant charge would be kept down to around the 5 ounce level out in the engine compartment.

    There’s more to it than just swapping out refrigerants in the same system the expansion valves settings adjustments internally to properly work at their most efficient level need to be redesigned expansion valves are designed for a different refrigerants just because it works doesn’t make it right.

    Yes R134 is approaching up to that $350 a 30 pound Ken and all I did was raise my prices of refrigerant to exactly match my markup ratio that I did when it was only $79 a 30 pound can.

    Your other option is wondering why you’re losing money and you’re in competition with the guy down the street who has some of the cheapest prices who is struggling to stay in business and you’re struggling to be cheaper than him I don’t think he wants that.

    Then the shop owner could not afford to send himself to go get education and cannot afford to buy refrigerant analyzers that he’s always making an excuse why he doesn’t buy it because he’s the cheapest guy on the block it’s a recipe for struggling the rest of your life or putting yourself out of business not able to afford to pay your technicians a decent wage .

    And giving your customers a Refrigerant that will reduce the life of their compressor because it was not designed for that system causing your customers to take a LARG financial loss because somebody wanted to save money