Industry Update: New Refrigerant Guidelines and Restrictions

Quick facts:

  • In 2020, the EPA was given authority by Congress to regulate and restrict all chemicals that have GWP, or Global Warming Potential, regarding specific industry sectors
    • Specifically for the HVAC/R industry, this will restrict the use of HFCs
  • The new standard for A/C refrigerants set by the EPA is <700 GWP
  • All A2L refrigerants, the most promising alternative to HFCs, have a GWP of under 700
  • Safety standards could be affected and will require increased focus on safety for handling A2L refrigerants

Out With the Old, In With the New

R-12, R-22, R-410A… and then what?Commercial HVAC Service Sacramento

Different refrigerants have gone in and out of style over the years due to constantly evolving research about the environmental impact of the substances. Over the past decade, more emphasis has been on GWP (Global Warming Potential) which has driven much of the change in our industry. The once widely used R-22, having faced an initial ban on import and production in 2010, faced a final ruling to completely ban the refrigerant in 2020 (R-22, however, still exists in some old HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) units). R-410A and R-134A became two of the main replacement refrigerants for R-22 and are currently two of the most widely used refrigerants in HVAC/R applications. In today’s ever-increasingly environmentally aware landscape, the industry is facing even more uncertainty in the use of refrigerants as more change appears on the horizon.

EPA Refrigerant Verdict

In a landmark move to combat climate change and protect the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced new guidelines for refrigerant usage specifically targeting the phasedown of R-410A and R-134A. This development brings significant changes for both HVAC contractors and customers alike, as the industry shifts towards more sustainable alternatives.

Why are R-410A and R-134A having their usage reduced?

R-410A and R-134A, commonly used in air conditioning and refrigeration systems, belong to a class of chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs- the most common type of refrigerant). Although much better than their predecessor CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons- as the since-banned R-12 belonged to), HFCs can have quite a negative impact on the environment due to their high Global Warming Potential (GWP).

Global Warming Potential (GWP)

GWP is a number that represents the multiplier of a refrigerant to trap heat in the atmosphere, more than CO2 does.

To put it in perspective, R-410A has a GWP of 1,924. This means that R-410A traps 1,924 times the heat in the atmosphere than CO2. In comparison, the new EPA standard for A/C refrigerants is <700. Time to make some changes!

Years prior, the refrigerant regulation conversation mainly focused on the Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP- a measure of how destructive the gas is to the ozone layer). Now, since the EPA was given authority to regulate chemicals with Global Warming Potential in 2020, GWP has been a main focus.

Push to Reduce Climate Impact

You see, the more research we do on which metrics to look at when it comes to assessing certain chemical’s impact on climate change, the more the guidelines will change. We can see this clearly as we look at which refrigerants in the past were widely accepted as safe.

Of course, many other factors come into play as the EPA sets the standard for refrigerants- such as efficiency, flammability, toxicity and more.

Enter: A2L Refrigerants

The most promising alternatives to refrigerants R-410A and R-134A, particularly in light of the EPA's guidelines on low GWP (Global Warming Potential) are A2L refrigerants.

Safety Considerations

A2L refrigerants are a class of refrigerants rated slightly higher on the flammability scale than A1 refrigerants (which current and past choices such as R-22, R-410A and R-134A belong to) yet very low on the toxicity scale with a level of 1. A2Ls are still very safe when handled properly and flammability is not a high concern as long as safety precautions are followed.

Other Possible Alternatives

Hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs): HFOs, such as R-1234yf and R-1234ze, have also gained some attention as alternatives to HFCs due to their significantly lower GWP, and are already in use in the auto manufacturing sector. Chances are if you have a vehicle less than 3 years old, it has one of these new refrigerants in it.

Carbon dioxide (CO2 or R-744): CO2 is another natural refrigerant gaining popularity due to its zero ozone depletion potential and very low GWP. It is well-suited for transcritical CO2 systems, especially in commercial refrigeration and heat pump applications.​

The Current OutlookCommercial HVAC Service Sacramento​​

These four main refrigerants (R-32, R-1234yf, R-454B and R-1234ze) have been developed to provide very similar performance to R-134A, R-410A, and other HFC refrigerants while minimizing their environmental impact. 

A2L refrigerants such as R-32 and R-454B seem to be the most accepted alternatives to HFCs within the industry currently, although they both have different advantages and considerations. The choice of refrigerant depends on factors such as application requirements, safety considerations, regulatory compliance, and cost-effectiveness.


In summary, the EPA's new guidelines for refrigerant usage signal a critical step toward sustainability and environmental stewardship in the HVAC industry. The phasedown of R-410A, R-134A and all other HFCs underscores the urgent need to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

HVAC/R contractors and business owners alike should prioritize transitioning to alternative refrigerants with lower GWP to comply with regulatory requirements, minimize environmental impact, and ensure the long-term health of the planet. As the refrigerant landscape evolves, staying informed and proactive in adopting sustainable practices will be essential for businesses to thrive in a rapidly changing market.

Looking For a Commercial HVAC/R Service Provider in the Sacramento Region?Commercial HVAC Service in Sacramento, CA

Cooper Oates is constantly on the lookout for critical industry updates to stay informed on the changing HVAC/R landscape. By becoming leaders in the HVAC/R industry in terms of adapting the latest technology and staying updated on the most recent rules and regulations, we can provide the best service to our customers through our experience and expertise. 

Contact Cooper Oates

Cooper Oates services all types of commercial HVAC and refrigeration equipment within Sacramento and the surrounding Northern California region. We have partnered with businesses throughout the area for over 50 years. Contact us today so we can help your mechanical systems become more efficient and effective.