Technical Questions

What are some alternative refrigerants to HFC?

Common, low-Global Warming Potential alternatives to HFC include: carbon dioxide itself (R-744), ammonia (R-717), hydrocarbons (HC; R-600A, etc.), and hydrofluoroolefins (HFO; R-1234yf, etc.) The latter two refrigerants, hydrocarbons and HFOs, are especially common in newer smaller appliances. Small appliances such as mini-fridges that use low-GWP refrigerants use almost exclusively R-600A refrigerant.
Even though many of these alternative refrigerants are greenhouse gases (notably carbon dioxide), one should keep in mind that relative to HFCs, these refrigerants are very climate friendly. For example, carbon dioxide (R-744) has a Global Warming Potential of 1, versus HFC-134A, which has a Global Warming Potential of 1430.

Are there drop-in substitutes for CFCs, HCFCs, or HFCs?

The EPA does not approve any drop-in refrigerant substitutes for the refrigerant classes listed above. In some cases, it is possible to retrofit existing equipment with more benign refrigerants. However, in all cases, refrigerant equipment will need pressure adjustments or other changes in order account for the new refrigerant chemical substitute. It is usually not possible to completely switch refrigerant classes (i.e. from HFC to HC refrigerants) given the different equipment requirements for different refrigerant chemicals. It is fairly common to retrofit old equipment running on ozone-depleting refrigerants (HCFCs and CFCs) with low-ODP HFCs.

Why are refrigerant inventories so important?

A refrigerant inventory is the process of catologuing HVAC equipment in a given area and recording what type and quantity of refrigerant is used in each system.
Inventories allow facilities managers to answer key questions, such as:

  1. What percentage of HVAC equipment in my building uses HFCs/HCFCs/CFCs?
  2. Where are the largest sources of refrigerant emissions on campus?
  3. Where is aging/inefficient equipment located?
  4. What is estimated climate impact from refrigerant leakage?
  5. Which high-impact zones can be most easily mitigated?
These questions are key in developing a system-wide approach to implementing refrigerant management best practices.

Consumer Decisions

What's better--buying a new, sustainable fridge or keeping my existing equipment?

That's a great question, and something that we have been trying to figure out. Currently, our guidance is to keep existing, functioning equipment, even if it uses HFC refrigerants. It is better to avoid purchasing unnecessary equipment (which reduces the impact of manufacturing on the environment), even if your existing equipment is not optimally sustainable. If your fridge is not keeping your food cold (i.e. there could be a refrigerant leak or other equipment problem), we recommend that you replace your equipment with an Energy-Star-certified, low-GWP refrigerant refrigerator. Please refer to our buying guide.

Is sustainable HVAC equipment more expensive?

In most cases, no. In fact, supermarkets across the country, such as Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have begun to install low-GWP equipment in their stores. Refrigerant accounts for only about one percent of a fridge's lifetime cost, and most new appliances are being manufactured with low-GWP refrigerants. This means that there are plenty of options to buy low-GWP fridges at competitive prices. You can view our refrigerator buying guide. It is also valuable to remember that choosing a more energy efficient fridge--denoted by Energy Star--with save you (or your employer/landlord) a lot of money. Please reach out to us if you are curious about the cost comparisons between older and newer equipment, based on energy use.

Should I rent a mini-fridge from my college or university, if possible?

Yes! Purchasing decisions are ultimately personal choices, but renting mini-fridges and other equipment is usually the most sustainable option. The following reasons are some benefits to renting:

  1. Most mini-fridges that can be rented through Yale are already Energy Star-certified and use low-GWP refrigerants. This means that you don't have to take the extra effort to consult our buying guide!
  2. The third party that rents mini-fridges to students will take care of fridge maintenance annually. This means that your mini-fridge is regularly being serviced, so you can worry less about refrigerant leaks and other system problems.
  3. Renting demands less manufacturing. Most students use their fridges for just a few years. By renting, you can reduce the number of fridges that eventually enter the waste stream.
  4. If you are planning to have a fridge for only a few years, renting can be a cheaper option than buying a fridge. Plus, you'll have people move your equipment in and out of your dorm at the end of the term.

We want to buy a normal fridge for our kitchen, but we don't know what to buy. Does YRI have a buying guide for larger equipment?

YRI produces material on primarily small appliances, but you can visit the Climate Friendly Cooling Campaign's website that lists sustainable equipment alternatives. The site features sustainable options for refrigerators, air conditioners, vending machines, motor vehicle air conditioners, and many other appliances.