Introduction to Refrigerants

Did you know?

  • Good refrigerant management plans and policies don’t just reduce greenhouse gas emissions; they save money as well. 
  • Leaking refrigerants from equipment will cost more:
    • to service
    • to have additional refrigerant added over time
    • to operate … as it will be much less efficient than if it had its optimum amount of refrigerant in it
Refrigerant Terms

Global Warming Potential (GWP) – This number will be listed on a refrigerant and refers to how potent the refrigerant is in trapping heat in the atmosphere vs. carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A refrigerant with a GWP of 1,700 means that the refrigerant has 1,700 times the heat-trapping potential of CO2.

Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) – This number will be listed on a refrigerant and refers to how much the refrigerant can degrade the ozone layer if in the atmosphere. 

Example: The common refrigerant R-134a is an ethane-based compound that has an ODP of 0, and a GWP of 1,430. This is good for reducing ozone depletion, BUT it has a large impact on the climate if leaked. 

When looking at the purchase of new equipment that uses refrigerants, make sure to see if you can find a version that uses a refrigerant that has a GWP of less than 700.

Some Common Refrigerants





















R-290 (Propane)



R-717 (Ammonia)



R-744 (CO2)



Types of HVAC Equipment that Use Refrigerants

You may encounter a variety of equipment that contain refrigerants, including chillers, heat pumps, packaged terminal air conditioners (PTAC), and even window units.

Some key considerations are:

  • How much refrigerant is this equipment intended to use?
  • Is this a single, sealed piece of equipment, or is piping used to deliver refrigerant to another area?

Custom-installed systems that contain large amounts of refrigerant are most likely to be a source of leakage and should be a priority for leak management. Equipment that has been sealed by the manufacturer is less likely to leak during operation. However, all equipment has the potential to leak when it is decommissioned and after disposal. 

Conducting a Refrigerant Inventory

The best way to determine your refrigerant footprint is to conduct an inventory of the refrigerants that are being used at your facilities. Record keeping of all the equipment that your agency owns or operates should track the following:

  • The type of refrigerant that each piece of equipment uses.
  • The quantity of refrigerant that has been recharged into each piece of equipment during servicing. It is recorded in pounds (lbs.), and this is how you can determine your leak rate. 
  • The amount of refrigerant that was recharged into the equipment can be found in two ways:
    • 1) Maintenance logs — If you service your equipment in-house, you can check your logs for that piece of equipment, or you can look at purchasing records to see how much refrigerant has been purchased.
    • 2) Ask your service contractor — If you have a third-party contractor service your equipment, ask them how much refrigerant they have recharged into your systems when servicing them.

Once your inventory database has been created, staff should update the information as regular maintenance, renovations, or new construction occur that impact the refrigerant inventory.

View sample inventory forms:

Form 1: Monthly Refrigerant Inventory Usage

Form 2: Monthly Refrigerant Usage Log Worksheet

For more information on conducting a refrigerant inventory, reach out to [email protected]

Creating an Agency-wide Refrigerant Management Plan

Every agency should have a refrigerant management plan in place to ensure that refrigerants are managed effectively and that lower GWP refrigerants are considered when purchasing new equipment. These plans should outline and include the following attributes:

  • Procedures for how the agency is meeting all legal and regulatory requirements for managing refrigerants.
  • Procedures for how the agency is inventorying its refrigerants.
  • A leak detection policy for its existing refrigeration equipment.
  • A requirement that new refrigeration equipment purchased includes built-in leak detection features when feasible.
  • A policy requiring lower GWP refrigerants be evaluated and considered when purchasing new cooling equipment for either new construction or renovation.

View an example of an existing agency-wide refrigerant management plan.

Leak Detection Best Practices

The easiest, and most immediate, way to lower the climate impact of refrigerants is to develop and follow a leak detection program to catch and fix leaks as soon as possible. To do this, create a schedule to regularly check for leaks in your refrigeration equipment, and create tracking forms that can be used to keep track of leaks. For this, the forms can include the following information.

Develop a Refrigerant Leak Test Form that tracks:
  • Contact Info and Summary
    • Name & Title
    • Request
    • Date
    • Remarks
    • Check (Y/N) the following;
      • Evaporator
        •  Inspection Remarks and Liquid Level
      • Condenser
        • Inspection Remarks
      • Compressor
        • Inspection Remarks
      • Economizer
        • Inspection Remarks
      • Receiver & Pump Down Compressor
        • Inspection Remarks and Liquid Level
Develop a Refrigerant Status Report for any leaks that are detected that includes:
  • Refrigerant Leak Identification
    • Leak location and description
    • Repaired (Y/N)
    • Refrigerant Amount Used (lbs.)
    • Status
  • Refrigerant Recovery
    • Equipment Used
    • Amount Recovered (lbs.)
    • Re-Installed (Y/N)
      • If ‘No’ – Explain Disposition
  • Unintentional Venting
    • Describe the Situation
    • Corrective Action
    • Approximate Refrigerant amount vented (lbs.)
  • Summary section
    • Statement of; “If deficiencies are not corrected, you may be in violation of Federal / State clean air regulations.”
    • Total Refrigerant Used (lbs.)
    • % of Design Charge
    • Comments
    • Sign off
      • Lines for Engineer & Supervisor, that includes;
        • Signature
        • Title
        • Date

View a sample of a leak test form.

Lower GWP Refrigerants

Lower GWP refrigerants are coming on the market as companies work to lower the climate impacts of potential refrigerant leaks. EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) website has a listing of refrigerants that indicates their ODP and GWP so you can quickly evaluate if there are lower GWP options available for your applications. Each piece of refrigeration equipment has its own refrigeration needs. If you are looking for a drop-in replacement with a lower GWP, make sure you check with the manufacturer to determine if any lower GWP refrigerants are certified for use in your equipment.

In addition, if you have a third-party contractor that services your refrigeration equipment, you can ask them if there are any lower GWP drop-in replacements that they can use in your equipment.

SNAP is also a good resource for purchasing new equipment, as you can quickly evaluate the GWP of a refrigerant that the equipment you are considering purchasing uses.

Proper Disposal of Small Sealed Equipment

As approximately 90% of refrigerant emissions occur at the end of their useful life, New York state regulations state that refrigerants contained in materials being handled must be properly removed and managed prior to compaction, crushing or shredding (6 NYCRR 361-1.5(f)) to prevent release to the atmosphere. This regulation supports federal requirements that must be followed for refrigerants. Learn more about managing a variety of equipment from EPA.

Guidance specific to the management of refrigerated household appliances can be found here.

After being removed by a certified technician, old refrigerants can be safely recycled and reused. To find a technician in your area, contact your local recycling coordinator.

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