Colors, Carbon & Class (Part 1 of 3)

May 31, 2019 / by Ted Atwood

Ted Atwood

A Refrigerant Reference Guide

Refrigerants Then

Refrigerants come in all shapes and sizes. Thirty years ago, there were 2 types of refrigerants: low pressure and high pressure. For high pressure there were 3 flavors: R-12 (medium temp refrigeration), R-502 (low temp refrigeration) and R-22 (everything else).

These refrigerants seemed easy, they were cheap, and every supply house had all 3 flavors.  In the back of every service truck there were 3 bottles of refrigerant (green, purple & white) along with a vacuum pump, acetylene torch, tools and something to help move heavy compressors around.  Most service events were referred to as “Gas & Go” and involved very little or no leak checking. But then it became apparent that this less than scientific method to fixing things needed to change - because there was a hole in the ozone.

Refrigerants Now

Today there are more than 30 refrigerants, most made of the same 5 or 6 refrigerants blended in different ratios (R-125, R-134a, R-32, 143 and now 1234yf).  Each blend is carefully formulated to achieve the right cooling / glide ratio. They are branded and sold as the solve-all elixir your system has been waiting for!  In the old days the formulations were geared toward achieving the right temperature, but for new blends to be allowable and not be branded as obsolete, they must also accomplish the goal of having a lower than 1500 GWP.  We commonly refer to these refrigerants as 4th Generation. Here is a list showing how we arrived here:

Generation 1 CFCs – R-11, R-502

These had high Ozone Depleting Potential (ODP) and also have a high Global Warming Potential (GWP). These are obsolete – they don’t make them anymore.

Generation 2 HCFCs – R-22, R-123

These were lower ODP, and they have GWP but not as high as Generation 1. These are also obsolete as regular production is no longer an option.

Generation 3 HFCs – R-410, R-404, R-407

These have no ODP, but a really high GWP over 1500. In some cases, there are as much as 2 tons of carbon in 1 lb. of R-404. These are heading toward obsolescence, and presently 24 states are planning to regulate their use.

Generation 4 HFC/HFO Blends – R-448, R449, R-513, R-1234

These have no ODP, a low GWP of less than 1500, and have no planned phase out. However, we expect the GWP limit to be reduced to less than 1000 over the next 6 years.

Generation 5 Hydrocarbons like Butane, Propane, R-1234 & Naturals

We are creating this Natural (mostly) generation class as a reference for clients to use when describing the future of refrigerants, because it will happen.

A Timing Issue

Looking back over the past 25 years, we see a very troublesome aspect to this entire process, namely that no refrigerant is living as long as the equipment it was designed to support.

If you installed an R-22 system in 2014 you will no longer have easy access to the gas in a few months, yet your system should be running until 2024. The same thing goes for R-123. If you install a system this year (it’s legal) and you run a traditional accounting straight line depreciation, then in 6 months production goes into limited availability, and even further out in 10 years supplies are completely eliminated, you will still have 27 years of depreciation on a system that is technically obsolete. If you are thinking this is unnecessary worrying, keep in mind that of the 100,000 R-11 systems put into operation before 1994, more than 50,000 are still running!

Finding Guidance

Groups like AHRI work hard to help the manufacturers sort out things like color patterns to make them more identifiable, the EPA reviews their sustainability value, then ASHRAE helps by defining classes. Even more groups work on the task of identifying the carbon equivalency, and no they don’t work together; they are all independent. Surprisingly in the US there is still very little safety information on any of these containers, that is the next horizon!

Although routinely we publish a 7-year projection of which refrigerants will be allowable based on existing regulations, the chart is so packed that it doesn’t do a great job of detailing the popular refrigerants (F-gases), their carbon value, chemical blends and what they look like. So here it is, a simple to use color coded Refrigerant Reference Chart that you can use as a reference for the three big issues you need to be aware of:

1. Color of the bottle containing the refrigerant
2. Carbon equivalent value of the refrigerant in the bottle
3. Class of Refrigerant

(BONUS) Generation of the refrigerant and package size are also included

Not all refrigerants are listed on the chart, but most are. We are passionate about education and awareness, so if you need more information message us and we will jump at the chance to share whatever content we have access to, or at the very least point you in the right direction.

If you are a property manager and you are not EPA certified, we strongly encourage you to pursue it – we provide classes and certification here at Trakref®. With training and awareness, we are confident you will have the tools you need to better manage, guide and support the service needs of your property or building.


Click Here to Download the Refrigerant Reference Chart



Topics: Industry Insights, Refrigerant Compliance, Refrigerant Management, compliance, performance, refrigerants, HFCs, reference guide

Ted Atwood

Written by Ted Atwood

Ted is the President & CEO of Trakref, a cloud-based HVAC/R and refrigerant management software company that provides unprecedented solutions for commercial properties. He has spent more than 20 years in the HVAC/R industry, even owning and operating one of the nation’s largest refrigerant reclaim and recycling companies.