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Air conditioning legislation

Air-conditioning plants have been subject to a number of legislative changes in recent years. Andrew Cooper provides a round-up of what FMs need to know.

by Andrew Cooper

27 January 2011


As of January 2010, certain types of refrigerants are being phased out under legislation. Refrigerants fall under two categories, natural and artificial. Natural refrigerants can be volatile, toxic or, inefficient, so artificial refrigerants such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
are more commonly used.

Artificial refrigerants have helped deplete the ozone layer and, most scientists believe, contributed towards global warming. European legislation has been passed in an attempt to try and reduce this effect.

HCFC phase out
Under EC regulations, CFCs are now banned and HCFCs are being phased out. The most commonly used HCFC in the UK is R22 refrigerant. Virgin HCFCs cannot be used for servicing systems as of January 2010. Recycled HCFCs can be used until January 2015, after which they can no longer be used.

The Ozone Layer
The Ozone Layer is approximately 15-30km above the earth and filters out harmful UV radiation. It comprises three oxygen atoms bonded together (O3).

Ozone naturally breaks down to O2 and O, as part of its chemical reaction to UV radiation, and then re-forms again. However, CFC’s, and to a lesser degree HCFC’s, are very stable and survive long enough to reach the upper atmosphere, where they also react to UV and break down to release chlorine atoms. These chlorine atoms speed up the break-down of ozone, meaning it breaks down faster than it can re-form, thus depleting the overall layer of ozone.


EC regulations on certain fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-Gas Regulations)

Any cooling or heating systems with more than 3kg of ozone depleting substances including HCFCs and HFCs must be checked annually for leakage.

F-Gas Regulations contain requirements for labelling, leak checking, record-keeping and maintenance staff qualifications.

Systems employing HFCs should also have clear labelling stating that they contain fluorinated greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol, the type of refrigerant, and how much is in the system (the charge). If the system is hermetically sealed, this should also be stated.

Normal systems with a HFC charge of less then 3kg are not affected by this legislation, while hermetically sealed systems are not covered if the charge is less then 6kg.

If a system does meet the criteria then, depending on the charge, it must be checked annually, half yearly or, quarterly.

Compliance for both of these EC regulations is policed by the Environment Agency (or Scottish Environment Protection Agency) and Local Authorities who have wide-ranging powers including enforcement and prohibition notices. Most local authorities delegate their powers to local trading standards or environmental health. Further non-compliance could lead to a criminal prosecution.

Global Warming
UV, light and infrared, all have different frequencies and wavelengths. For example, light comes in the form of shortwave radiation, which heats up the earth’s surface and in turn emits long wavelength radiation.

Atmospheric gases such as water vapour and carbon dioxide absorb some of this long wavelength radiation, reflecting it back to the earth.

This warms the planet, which is a necessary function to preserve life, but if greenhouses gases such as carbon dioxide increase too much it can create global warming.

The Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000
These regulations apply to all plant/systems that contain a relevant fluid. A relevant fluid is a steam or gas under pressure and liquids under pressure which become gases upon release to the atmosphere.
It covers refrigerated systems where the installed power exceeds 25kW. The regulations require
users to:
● establish the safe operating limits of the plant
● have a suitable written schedule prepared by a “competent” person for future periodic examinations which should be enacted upon. A competent person should be taken to mean an organisation or individuals who are competent by knowledge, experience and independence to carry out relevant duties.
Accreditation to BS EN 45004:1995 would indicate:
● the provision of adequate operating instructions to any person operating the system
● the system was maintained
and in good repair
● adequate records were
being kept
Compliance is enforced by the HSE, with powers that include prohibition and corrective action notices. HSE can prosecute for non-compliance with an allowable maximum fine of £20,000 and/or imprisonment.

European Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD)
The EPBD requires all air conditioning systems to have an Air Conditioning Energy Assessment (ACEA) at least once every five years. Systems with an output of at least 12kW power must have their first ACEA before 4 January 2011 (4 January 2013 in Scotland). Systems with an output of more than 250kW should have been assessed by 4 January 2009.

The exception is systems installed on or after 1 January 2008 with an output of at least 12kW, which must have their first assessment within five years from installation.

A system includes a collection of units under the technical control of a single person. Therefore a building with multiple cassettes or wall-mounted units which combined have a power output of greater then 12kW will almost certainly require an ACEA.

The legislation is enforced by trading standards and a fine of £300 can be levied for

While the fine is unlikely to ensure compliance on its own, the purpose of the assessment includes identifying whether there are low or no-cost ways of making systems run more efficiently.

The importance of energy efficiency
“Introducing full air conditioning into a design can often add around 50 per cent to the eventual running costs of the building” (CIBSE Guide F)

Understanding the efficiencies of a system and determining if they are maintained could save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. CIBSE says assessors have identified measures that repay inspection costs in months – and continue to deliver savings to building operators.

Defra www.defra.gov.uk/fgas
DCLG (for EPBD) www.communities.gov.uk The Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000 www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2000/128/contents/made

Andrew Cooper is a commercial property and energy consultant