Hydrocarbon Refrigerants

Communiqué du commissaire des incendies

Hydrocarbon Refrigerants

Communiqué 2013-12

September 27, 2013

The Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) has been made aware of a new “Do It Yourself” (DIY) hydrocarbon refrigerant air conditioning system recharging kit that is currently being sold in Canada. Similar products may become available for purchase in the future.

The kit is used for recharging home or commercial air conditioning systems and consists of three compressed gas canisters containing flammable refrigerant combined with a gauge/hose assembly. Canisters of the refrigerant are also sold individually. It is being marketed as an environmentally safe product for replacing non-flammable refrigerants that have ozone depleting properties. The hydrocarbon refrigerant’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) indicates that it is a liquefied petroleum gas consisting of 100% alkanes, with an explosive range between 2.15% and 9.6%.

According to the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI), which represent manufacturers, wholesalers and contractors in the Canadian heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration industries, there are currently no air conditioning systems for homes or businesses within the Canadian market that are designed for use with hydrocarbon refrigerants. The HRAI further indicated that using an incompatible refrigerant with an air conditioning system would likely void the manufacturer’s warranty on the system.

The OFMEM is concerned that using this product can pose a serious fire or explosion risk due to the following:

  • flammable vapours coming in contact with nearby ignition sources (e.g., pilot lights, spark igniters, etc.) in the event of a leak in the air conditioning system;
  • improper use by untrained individuals;
  • missing or illegible labels identifying the flammable nature of the refrigerant could result in persons (e.g., fire department members, service technicians, fire investigators, etc.) not taking appropriate precautions.

Although the OFMEM is not aware of regulations in Ontario that explicitly prohibit the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants, Article of Division B of the Ontario Fire Code requires air conditioning systems to “…be operated and maintained so as not to create a hazardous condition”. Replacing a non-flammable refrigerant with one that is highly flammable may be interpreted as creating a hazardous condition, especially if the system is not designed to be compatible with that refrigerant.

It is noteworthy that the product’s packaging instructs that the existing ozone depleting refrigerant is required to be removed from the system prior to recharging with the hydrocarbon refrigerant. According to Ontario Regulation 463/10, Ozone Depleting Substances and Other Halocarbons, this action must be performed by a certified technician.

The OFMEM is bringing this hydrocarbon refrigerant product to the attention of fire departments to raise their awareness on the potential hazards associated with its use and to encourage them to educate the public on the risks associated with DIY applications. Home and business owners are advised to use certified air conditioning technicians to recharge their systems with appropriate non-hydrocarbon based refrigerant products.

For further information, please call the Technical Services Section of the OFMEM at (416) 325-3100 or the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) at 1-800-267-2231.