The gradual phaseout of R-22 creates a selling opportunity for R-410a commercial air-conditioning units.

Many of you probably know that I'm not just a writer, I work in the business. And yesterday I made a sales call on a potential customer who runs a huge multistory building. I talked to him about the need to replace nine old package rooftop air conditioners. Then he asked, "What would it take to replace them with 'Puron' units?"

It's getting to be a common question on commercial jobs.

Consider the really wise marketing position that Carrier Corp. has taken by calling a generic refrigerant (R-410a) Puron. We all used to call chlorinated refrigerants "Freon," which was DuPont's trade name for its line, and it stuck! Although the other refrigerant manufacturers each had their own trade names for it (such as Genetron), everybody still refers to it as Freon. DuPont tried the same trick with its line of nonchlorinated refrigerants, calling them "Suva." But due to better retail advertising, Carrier's trade name of Puron will likely be what the stuff is called in the future.

Back to the question of why we don't have commercial equipment charged with R-410a, or R-134a, or whatever: Yes, you can buy systems with screw or centrifugal compressors charged with nonchlorinated refrigerants, but they start at 80 tons. And at the time of this writing, I know of no package rooftops that are similarly available.

As I pointed out to this manager, his is a wise concern. Due to the current cap on the production of R-22, the demand will outstrip production in 2004. So there will be shortages! Then the stuff will be phased out starting in 2015, just 14 years from now and well into the lifespan of the equipment we're selling today. We need to be pushing the heck out of R-410a units, whenever they become available. But where are they?

Look at it from my standpoint: Right now I have a wonderful sales story to tell for replacement of old commercial units, in that the improved efficiencies quickly repay the replacement costs here in Florida. As many of you know, I'm totally against the phaseout of R-22. I'm also opposed to preaching gloom and doom just to close a sale, like many residential contractors have been doing for the past couple of years. However, if the phaseout is real and on track, as it currently seems to be, trying to promote systems with "environmentally friendly" refrigerants is no longer a ploy, it's a real concern.

So, manufacturers, where are you when it comes to providing commercial (rooftop and split) systems using R-410a? Why has the residential market been your sole focus to this point, when most residential customers don't understand environmental regulations as well as businesses do? What is required? Changing compressors and beefing up coil burst points? It doesn't sound like advanced technology to me.

As for those of you in the supply house business, isn't it time to start pushing your suppliers for such systems as our business customers are pushing us?