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HVAC & The Environment: What You Should Know If You’re Pursuing an HVAC Career

March 10, 2021

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems have an essential function. They keep our homes cool in the summer and warm in the winter, in addition to regulating the quality and movement of the air that we’re breathing indoors. While HVAC systems aren’t the home appliances with the most severe environmental impact, there are still a few ways that HVAC systems can contribute negatively to the environment. HVAC systems may use refrigerants that can damage the ozone layer, and they also use electricity, the consumption of which burns fossil fuels and contributes to ozone depletion. 

While HVAC systems can cause environmental harm, there are many solutions offered today which have the potential to reduce the impact HVAC systems can have on the environment. Some of these solutions can be implemented by HVAC technicians themselves. If you’re interested in becoming an HVAC technician, here’s what you need to know about the environmental impact of these systems and the solutions available today. 

Those in an HVAC Career Should Know That HVAC Systems Can Emit Harmful Refrigerants

Air conditioning systems rely on cooling agents, or refrigerants, to drive cold air into homes, but these cooling agents have a known negative environmental impact. Hydro-chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are all refrigerants that have been reported to contribute to ozone depletion and global warming, as these compounds are greenhouse gases. In Canada, Federal Halocarbon Regulations, 2003, bans the release of halocarbons from air conditioning systems in quantities over 0.1 kg of halocarbon per 01. kg of air, but these refrigerants are still being released into the atmosphere in lower quantities. Freon (R-22), a commonly used HCFC, has been banned in Canada for use in newly manufactured HVAC systems, and Puron (R-410A), a less-harmful HFC, is now more commonly used. However, this refrigerant still contributes to direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions.

HVAC systems emit refrigerants which contribute to ozone depletion

While it is difficult to control the emission of refrigerants into the atmosphere due to the range of HVAC systems in use today, advancements in technology have the potential to reduce their environmental impact. If you want to become a HVAC technician, you’ll probably become familiar with R-32 as a possible solution. R-32, or difluoromethane, is an HFC refrigerant known to have a lower impact on greenhouse gas emission than R-410A, and is being explored by HVAC engineers as an option to reduce the environmental impact of HVAC systems. It has been found that R-32 can even be used to make these systems more energy efficient, as it has better thermodynamic properties. In the future, developments in the use of alternative refrigerants such as R-32 have the potential to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as a result of HVAC systems.

HVAC Systems Use Energy

It’s important to be aware that HVAC systems consume high amounts of energy. Depending on the type of system and the season, an air conditioning system can consume around 3000 to 5000 watts of electricity every hour. Electricity consumption results in the burning of fossil fuels and the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a major cause of ozone layer depletion. One way to determine how much energy an air conditioning system is using is by checking its SEER rating. Older air conditioners have lower SEER ratings and tend to consume more energy.

As a way to reduce the amount of fossil fuels released, HVAC products that harness renewable energy sources are also becoming a more popular option. Renewable energy sources such as solar and geothermal energy can reduce the environmental impact of HVAC systems by using sources of power that don’t burn fossil fuels. Solar energy harnesses energy from sunlight rather than from fossil fuels to power HVAC systems, while geothermal heat pumps convert natural energy stored underground for use. 

Regular maintenance can reduce the environmental impact of HVAC systems

Small-Scale Solutions to Reduce the Environmental Impact of HVAC Systems 

The environmental impact of HVAC systems can be reduced on a small scale, and as a professional in an HVAC career, this is an area where your services are especially useful to clients looking to reduce their own personal energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The efficiency of an HVAC system depends on the equipment being used. If a system’s equipment is outdated, chances are it’s using more energy or emitting a greater quantity of harmful refrigerants. Advising environmentally-conscious clients to replace old HVAC systems with an updated, energy efficient system can reduce the negative impact of older units. 

Additionally, HVAC systems should be regularly maintained in order to prevent excess emissions. Air filters should be replaced regularly, ducts and pipes should be inspected for leaks, and valves and steam traps should be examined for efficiency. 

If you want to be equipped with the ability to make HVAC systems less harmful for the environment, a program at the North American Trade Schools (NATS) could be right for you. Jason, a graduate of the North American Trade Schools HVAC technician program, says he chose NATS because of its reputation as a “hands-on school.” He notes, “They teach you what you need to know and then you apply your knowledge.” Practical, experiential training enables HVAC technicians to apply their newly learned skills in the field in innovative ways. That includes approaches that may help to reduce the environmental impact of HVAC systems. 

Are you interested in attending HVAC school?

The North American Trade Schools program could be right for you!

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