The IIAR’s updated ammonia safety standard, along with several of its other standards, is becoming a reference for other code and standards bodies.
In November 2015, the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR) released an updated version of its IIAR-2 operational and safety standard for ammonia refrigeration.
Under the revision, the 33-year-old IIAR-2 standard, for the first time, addresses ammonia equipment outside the machine room such as low-charge ammonia packaged systems, as well as explicitly covering ammonia/CO2 systems.
It hasn’t taken long for other code and standards bodies to notice the updated IIAR-2 standard as well as other IIAR standards, and start incorporating them into their latest codes, said Jeffrey Shapiro, president of the International Code Consultants and a long-time IIAR code consultant, at the IIAR’s Natural Refrigeration Conference & Heavy Equipment Expo, held in San Antonio, Texas February 28-March 1.
The aim of the IIAR, he said, is “not to fix model codes as much as it is to have model codes simply reference IIAR as the organization that knows how to develop regulations in the ammonia refrigeration industry,” he said.
And IIAR standards have, in fact, become “mandatory enforced documents by reference” under a number of model codes. For example, the 2018 International Fire Code (IFC) refers to IIAR codes 2, 7 and 8; the international mechanical code refers to IIAR codes 2,3,4 and 5; the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1 fire code refers to IIAR codes 2,7 and 8; and the National Electrical Code (NEC), recognized in all 50 states, recognizes IIAR-2. The 2018 Uniform Mechanical Code (UMC), which is almost completed, “will have IIAR codes 2,3,4, 5 when it’s finished,” said Shapiro.
More importantly, he noted, in the 2018 International Fire code “we sit on a par with ASHRAE-15,” ASHRAE’s guide to the safe design, construction, installation, and operation of refrigeration systems. He called this a subtle change with a huge consequence for the ammonia refrigeration industry. “The code used to say follow ASHRAE-15 for ammonia and also follow IIAR-2. Now the code says for anything other than ammonia go to ASHRAE-15, but for ammonia, don't go to ASHRAE-15, go to IIAR-2.”
On Shapiro’s agenda for 2021 is to get the International Mechanical Code and the NFPA-1 to at a minimum put ASHRAE-15 and IIAR-2 on a par “so that we don’t direct people to ASHRAE-15 for ammonia.”
“It’s a huge step in the right direction for the ASHRAE technical committee to recognize the value of IIAR-2 as a stand-alone standard.”
– Jeffrey Shapiro, International Code Consultants
Another significant development is that ASHRAE-15 in January approved taking ammonia out of ASHRAE-15 in the next edition. “That was approved by the technical committee and will be out for public review,” said Shapiro, asking for IIAR members’ support for the change.
“It’s a huge step in the right direction for the ASHRAE technical committee to recognize the value of IIAR-2 as a stand-alone standard,” he said.
In addition, in the 2018 UMC, IIAR was successful in getting a change on the chapter on refrigeration chapter 11, “which entirely eliminates ammonia refrigeration from the code,” he said. “The UMC will have an exception that says for ammonia systems, see IIAR-2.”
Shapiro also pointed out that, with the inclusion of ammonia detection requirements in IIAR-2, the 2018 International Fire Code does not include ammonia refrigeration in its “comprehensive set of detection regulations.” The IIAR is now looking at refining rules for the number and placement of detectors.
Shapiro urged the audience to be advocates at the local level for the adoptions of the new codes, “which benefit this industry.”
For the next round of code changes that would take effect in 2021, the International Code Council has set a January 1, 2018 deadline for receiving suggestions for changes, Shapiro noted. Complicating this deadline is that many of the 2018 codes will not be available until this September.
“If there is anything on your mind that you want fixed while you’re still in business and not retired in 2024, you need to get that information relatively quickly to the [IIAR] standards committee,” he said.
Concerns about A2Ls
One of the key developments in the refrigeration industry is the emergence of A2L refrigerants, typically HFO blends that are classified by ASHRAE has having low flammability.
ASHRAE is currently processing two amendments regarding A2Ls, an addendum D for air conditioning and an addendum H for industrial and commercial refrigeration systems.
ASHRAE is “moving to expand A2Ls,” and the UMC and the International Fire Code plan to include them in 2018 editions, while UL is developing standards to accommodate A2L equipment, Shapiro said.
But Shapiro, who has a degree in fire protection engineering, took a highly critical view of A2Ls.
“This is a huge issue for the entire refrigeration industry right now,” he said. “Should we allow flammable refrigerants to be piped throughout buildings for refrigeration systems and air conditioning? The real concern is fire risk.” He added: “The rush to market can be consequential in a negative way.”
Shapiro recounted hearing at a committee meeting the argument that A2Ls were not that bad. “Someone said, ‘If we had a fire but didn't ignite anything in the room, and the fire went out, that is an acceptable outcome of A2L refrigerants,” said. So I want to ask you, is that an acceptable outcome in your house, or your business?”
Ammonia, classified as a B2 refrigerant (low flammability and toxic above 400 ppm) has the advantage of emitting a pungent odor that serves as an alert, while A2Ls don’t have that characteristic, he said. “You’re going to smell the ammonia but you’re not going to know the ASLs are there. We’re putting all of our eggs in the leak detection basket.
“I think ammonia is highly overlooked in these environments because relatively speaking I’d rather know there's a problem than rely on a detector’s algorithm,” he said.
This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Accelerate America (acceleratena.com).