New PTAC units hit market after EPA shakeup

(New PTAC units hit market after EPA shakeup)

When you talk about standards in the hospitality industry, one area that has proved rather constant since the first chain hotel is heating and cooling. PTAC units remain an effective and efficient way to heat and cool hotel and motel rooms individually.

For the past 30 to 40 years, PTAC units in the residential and hospitality space processed R-22 refrigerant. In the early 2000s, the U.S. adopted policies from the Montreal Protocol, an international environmental agreement established to phase out ozone-depleting CFCs, including R-22. PTAC manufacturers were given eight years to find an alternative; beginning Jan. 1,  no new products could be manufactured to operate using R-22.
Six months after that deadline, new PTAC units that run on an alternative refrigerant, R-410A, are gaining solid footing in the industry.

Will PTACs ever be replaced?

“The [Environmental Protection Agency] mandated that, in the U.S., you can no longer manufacture R-22 refrigerant products, nor can you sell or buy R-22 products unless they were manufactured before 2010,” said Tom Guffey, VP ofAmana’s sales division. “They gave us time for an eight year phase out—we knew the brick wall was coming, so to speak.”

“We did have to go back and redesign 100 percent of the refrigeration systems,” said T.J. Wheeler, product manager at Friedrich. “Every one was redesigned to work under the new gas and it was a pretty big endeavor.”

R-410A became the most widely accepted alternative to R-22, and PTAC manufacturers that chose to hang around tweaked their existing models to accommodate it. It was not an easy task given the fact that R410-A is a less efficient refrigerant, requiring major overhauls to product lines.

“There were several alternative refrigerant choices to replace R-22; R-410A has been around in the central air business. The problem you ran into was most alternative refrigerants were 8- to 10-percent less efficient,” Guffey said. “If you were to just put R-410 into a R-22 system, you were either going to lose efficiency or have to run fans at such high cubic-feet-per-minute it would sound like a Cessna.”

Instead of investing into a redesign, some conglomerate companies sold their PTAC divisions.

“Everyone is kind of scrambling right now,” said A.J. Bhimji, president of ACW, which purchased Carrier’s line of PTAC units and introduced an R-410A model at the Choice Hotels convention in early May. “When we bought Carrier, we went back to the drawing board; we added a few features that benefit the customer.”

Existing PTACs that operate with R-22 are still legal to use and service. It is also legal to sell R-22 PTAC systems if they were manufactured prior to Jan. 1. The EPA has allowed refrigerant manufacturers 10 additional years to produce R-22 for service needs, but hoteliers will be faced with the decision to service R-22 models or replace them with new R-410A models as they break down over the next few years.

More on the new refrigeration regulations

New R-410A models offer different features

After the mandated switch away from R-22 coolant, PTAC manufactures attacked the loss of efficiency challenges with mostly the same techniques: all adopted R-410A coolant and increased the surface of the heating and cooling coil (both outside and inside) without increasing the overall size of the unit.

Beyond that, some manufacturers kept successful features from previous models and installed them on new R-410A product lines. Some introduced new features to R-410A models. Therefore, buyers will have several options and should note several differences when comparing manufacturers in the future.

Follow proper PTAC maintenance schedules

“We did a complete redesign on the unit to make up for the 8-percent loss in refrigeration efficiency with R-410A refrigerant,” said Tom Guffey, VP of Amana’s PTAC sales division. “It was quite a hurdle. Different manufactures have attacked it on different basis.”

Two of the several changes Amana made to its products were changing the indoor blower to a tangential design for improved noise reduction and installing a high-pressure cutout switch to deal with the increase in system pressures.

“R-410A is very hydroscopic and R-410A systems are very susceptible to absorb moisture during the manufacturing processes,” Guffey said. “We have a filter dryer in the R410A sealed system to keep debris from getting back into the capillary tube and compressor. Even though refrigerant maybe considered dry, we further dry it out. That equates to a much longer-running system.”

A.J. Bhimji, president of ACW, said his company went back to the drawing board and built a unit “with everything you could possibly imagine.”

“Our PTAC unit has a variable speed motor; we changed the fans and the compressor to variable speed,” he said. “As the temperature goes down, the speed goes down.”

ACW also built a control into its unit that allows the hotel’s engineer to turn off the heat pump when needed, taking the unit into electric heat, and technology Bhimji calls “Smart Soft Start,” which eliminates start-up noise by having the fan and compressor take about 30 seconds to get to full speed.

Friedrich R-410A models maintain the same form and function, including the same base pan, which created some challenges, said T.J. Wheeler, product manager at Friedrich.

Friedrich has been producing the new R-410A model for nearly 18 months and is making it a goal to be as upfront as possible to buyers.

“We wanted to make sure we changed the model number so distributors or hoteliers could recognize which had R-22 and which had R-410A,” Wheeler said. “It will be beneficial for hotels to have only one type. We’ve actually added a big, bright purple sticker that says ‘R-410A.’”