Breaking the Code

Refrigerant codes and standards, changes impacting owner-operators. 

3 minute read

Designed for energy efficiency and to reduce environmental impact, ASHRAE refrigerant codes 34 and 15 were recently revised to meet governmental regulation and achieve improved performance. This impacts manufacturers, retailers and property managers, who must stay current with new air conditioning requirements. While adoption varies by state, the revisions represent an urgent and significant change for property managers.  

During the 2023 Apartmentalize session, “Breaking the Code: Refrigerant Codes and Standards, Changes Impacting Owner/Operators,” industry leaders outlined the regulatory, certification and licensing requirements now facing the industry.  

“This is a really big deal and it’s going to have a big impact on our industry,” said Nichole Curl, Customer Training Manager for Lowe’s Pro Supply. “Nobody’s ready, but these codes are already in effect. We already have new efficiency standards.” 

ASHRAE key standards 15 and 34 provide essential guidance to operators. Standard 34 describes a shorthand way of naming refrigerants and assigns safety classifications based on toxicity and flammability. Standard 15 establishes procedures for the safe design, construction, installation and operation of refrigeration systems. 

Last year, changes to Standard 15 included changes to the use of non-A1 refrigerants, new overpressure protections and piping requirements, as well as updated volume and refrigerant change limit calculations, and detection/mitigation actions. New to Standard 34 is new safety designation, and updates to the application requirements for new refrigerants and capture flammability limits.  

While operators are responsible for the updates, regional variations to the standards further complicate the transition. 

“There’s a split in the country. Not everybody is doing the same thing,” Curl said. “The SEER rating requirement is different based on the region you are in, from north to south.” 

Operators forced to update their AC equipment will need to budget for the increased expense to reach performance standards and plan for the space to accommodate larger units. 

“In order to increase our energy efficiency, we have to increase our amount of coil,” said Curl. “The coil space is what absorbs the heat, so we’re going to have larger units. The redesign of fan systems and top panels on condenser units means they have to get bigger to accommodate airflow. Now, one container takes up a container and a half, which increases costs.” 

With a ban on disposable cylinders and cylinder tracking set to take effect in 2025, operators will also need to adopt reuse programs. The U.S. is currently the only country still using disposable cylinders.

Reuse will be essential, according to panelist Douglas Fisher, Regional Maintenance Manager at Lincoln Property Company, due to pending limitations on the volume of refrigerant manufacturers can produce. The limitations may even prompt some manufacturers to cease production, which will drive up costs on new products. 

“If you don’t develop and recycle/reclaim program, you may not be able to recharge a unit that has a leak and maintain all your other units. We have to get really good at leak detection,” Curl said. “It’s going to get to the point where it’s expensive.”  

Doug Pike is a Content Specialist for LinnellTaylor Marketing.