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Ask Angie: Why is the price of A/C coolant going up?

Talk with your A/C specialist to determine the best solution for your unit. (Photo courtesy of Robert Nettgen)

Talk with your A/C specialist to determine the best solution for your unit. (Photo courtesy of Robert Nettgen)

Dear Angie: I recently had a heating and cooling contractor out to my home to inspect my air conditioner. He told me I was low on coolant and that it would cost more than $200 to add what I need. I had this done just a few years ago and the cost was significantly less. Am I being scammed? – Kathy B., Indianapolis.

Dear Kathy: The good news is that it’s very unlikely your heating and cooling specialist is trying to scam you. The bad news is that he’s likely right about the significant cost increase for the refrigerant.

If your air conditioner was manufactured before 2010, it could use a refrigerant known as R-22. The Environmental Protection Agency ordered the phasing out of this refrigerant because of its ozone-depleting properties and in its place is a new, more environmentally friendly refrigerant called R-410A. The new refrigerant, though, won’t work with the older R-22 units.

Because the old refrigerant is no longer being produced for new air conditioners, it is instead being reclaimed from older units as they’re replaced, but as it has become scarcer, the price has gone up and will only continue to increase. Industry experts I’ve talked to say the prices have jumped from about $30 for the first pound of refrigerant just two years ago to as much as $175 now, though prices can vary significantly by company based on how much of the refrigerant they have on hand and how much they paid for it when they purchased it. That is why it’s a good idea to call around to get prices before you have more R-22 added to your unit. Ninety percent of the refrigerant will be phased out by 2015 and it will be virtually obsolete by 2020.

What this means for you and homeowners in similar situations is that you must decide how you want to proceed. Do you continue to invest high repair costs in your older unit, or do you replace it with a newer, more efficient unit?

I recommend having a conversation with a licensed heating and cooling technician with a good reputation to discuss your specific situation and examine all your options. You could get several more years out of your unit, or it could be more cost effective now to replace it. Be sure any technician you hire who handles refrigerant holds the required EPA certification before working with the fluid.

Editor's note: The current version of this story above contains updates and clarifications that were not included in the originally published version.

Angie’s List collects about 65,000 consumer reports each month covering more than 550 categories of home-related services. Angie Hicks compiles the best advice from the most highly rated service pros on Angie’s List to answer your questions. Ask Angie your question at askangie@angieslist.com.

 


More Like This

What is a fair price for R-22?

Dear Angie: My air conditioning contractor just charged me $100 per pound for R-22 refrigerant. This is a lot more than I paid four years ago. Is this a fair price these days?

Comments

Craig, this isn't the place to bring party politics into play, there are thousands of forums and blog sites on the web for that. We ALL know politics plays a huge part of everything that is wrong in America.

To your comment -What in the %#*^%$#@ does the scam by the Environmentalist- EPA- Gore have to do with George W.? Really angry person aren't you. You are a sad - angry fellow. :-(

While the article above was mildly truthful the comments about the R-22 not working in systems manufactured prior to 2010 is more that a little incorrect. 2010 was the year that manufacturing of R-22 machines was ceased by law. However manufacturers have been building R-410A systems since 2001 and there are many out there. Also the one thing to note about the new refrigerant is that the R-410A is a blend of gasses so if your systems looses more than half of the charge the right thing for the servicing company to do is to pull the rest of the charge out and recharge the system to specifications with fresh R-410A. Unfortunately for the customer this can be extremely costly but if it is not done it can do more damage to the system because the blend of gasses will not be correct. This and the fact that R-410A has been shown to be more detrimental to the environment are the major reasons large corporations such as DuPont are investing in researching a new refrigerant that is more stable and more environmentally friendly.

No air conditioning system should leak refrigerant regularly. If your system is low you have a leak that must be repaired. Otherwise being low on coolant is suspect.

Angie, your right on this one. I remember before R-22, there was R-12. I feel your advise on replacing older A/C units only makes sense. I replace my entire HVAC system 4 years ago and due to the efficiency I think it has just about paid for itself during these 95+ degree weeks, lately. The house had a 18 year old system in place when I moved in and I started doing my homework on HVAC systems. This first year of cooling the house during extreme days was expensive. My A/C unit was a 4 ton model, now replaced with a 16 SEER high efficiency 2 1/2 ton unit. I had also replaced inefficient flex pipe duct work with a straight sealed ducting and that increased overall air circulation in the entire house. Comparable months of electrical bills now have a $100.00 - $126.00 a month lower cooling bill. Had I taken the chance and kept the old system, as some replacement parts are no longer available, I might be sitting in front of a fan, full blast, in my under ware, trying to cool off. Also due to recent power outages, I am considering a solar panel system to power the entire HVAC system, and this one works on cloudy days, also. Anything over that goes right back into the grid and I get paid for the excess power. So far, the cost is more than a generator, but no maintenance, or gas, oil, or fumes to contend with, and it works all the time except at night. This would pay for itself faster than the new HVAC did. There are federal tax credits for it, too. Nothing but a win-win.

This same scam was perpetrated on the whole automobile industry years ago when a moratorium on the production of R-12 was put into place. Speculators lost a lot of money banking on the fact that refrigerant would continue to rise in price. Many replacement refrigerants came out soon afterwards and even retro kits that allowed the new refrigerants to work in the older systems.

Mike is right about the scam perpetrated on the automotive public. Back when it all was happening I had a full service mechanic shop in Arizona where air conditioning was not an option, it was mandatory if you wanted to live. R-12 was a very widely used refrigerant and was found in everything that got cold, from your refrigerators to the local malls. As I later found out, the subsequent change to R-22 was wrapped up in political and environmental cronyism and had its beginnings in California, (which having been involved in California politics I had no doubts) and like so many things politicians do, there was an investigation into conflicts of interest, which of course went nowhere. Without mentioning names. I will say that the major producer of the new R-22 refrigerant had very close ties to the higher-ups in California government that passed the legislation that eventually went nation wide. The result for me was that many of my customers were bringing in R-12 canisters that they were getting from sources in Mexico and wanting me to recharge their systems with it in violation of the new laws. I could only tell them that if the canisters had statements of production from any country other than the US, I could not use them. Before the new law came into effect, R-12 was widely available in California and Arizona for around $3 to $4 per 16 oz pressurized container. Almost overnight, the cost increased tenfold, and continued to rise. A lot of 'connected' people made a lot of money, and now the stage is set to do it again! IMHO, it's all based on the EPA's contention that the refrigerant caused the Ozone issue. I don't believe that for a second. 99.999% of refrigerant is contained within a sealed system, and although leaks can and do occur, most happen over a period of time and not all at once, as the EPA would have everyone believe. How do I know this? Before going professional in automotive, I was an HVAC Engineer with Trane Home Comfort Systems in Southern California.

The term is "refrigerant" rather than coolant. Coolant is used in radiators in automobiles. The current price of R-22 in Dayton Ohio is $75.00 per pound from my HVAC Contractors. She is being overcharged by as much as $100 per pound. A new A/C system including condensor, evaporator, line set and refrigerant should cost about $2,000. It is absolutely a must to replace the line set (refrigerant lines from the condensor to the evaporator) when installing a new R-410 system as the old lines are smaller and will cause excessive pressure in the new system if not replaced. This could ruin a new condensor in less than 3 years and affect the quality of the air conditioning produced.

the numbers you mention, $2000 for a evap, condenser and lineset are WAY off if you are talking retail. Contractors SPEND more than that for equipment in cases where the system is over 15 SEER and the size is over 4 ton.. As concerns your comment that refrigerant lines MUST be replaced.. .WRONG again. It is only required to do so when they are grossly undersized. There are line set mathematical computations which can be completed to figure that out. Our contracting company finds maybe 5% of the systems require refrigerant line replacement necessary. Smaller lines will not cause excessive pressure either. They will cause volumetric flow imbalances if they are incorrectly sized. You could have issues with a subcool charging method with undersized liquid lines and a slight drop in efficiency and capacity, We have found new R410A 2 ton systems will work perfectly fine with a 1/4" liquid line and 5/8" suction line (common in older R22 systems) and our sub cool charging tests will fall within the manufacturers limits. An average R410A 2 ton system installation, with air handler (evaporator section) in the attic and the condenser (outdoor unit) located in an easy to access spot, will cost you between $3600 and $4800 installed in the 13 to 16 SEER range. That is, if that contractor is working at an average 40% gross profit (average 7% to 10% net profit). I get tired of hearing people talk about us being too expensive. You find me ONE publicly traded corporation that would stay in business working on a 7% to 10% net profit. They would close their doors before working at that percentage. As concerns R22 costs, companies will sell now between $60 to $100 a lb. Contractor wholesale costs for r22 have risen over 350% since March of 2012. Lately, those costs have dropped, but not significantly due to a rule change by EPA regarding production allowances in USA.. There are companies that we find every day who will charge THOUSANDS more for a system. Those are the rip off companies. get three quotes, and choose the company you get the best feel for (usually the middle price). If you want the company to be there for service in the future, he has to make money to stay in business.

I HAVE BEEN IN THE HVAC INDUSTRY FOR OVER 35 YRS CURRENTLY RUN TWO HVAC BRANCHES ALL LEADING EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURE LINE SIZING CHARTS SHOWS SMALLER NOMINAL LINE SIZES FOR USE WITH R410A OVER R22 AS LONG AS THE EXISTING LINE SET IS PROPERLY FLUSHED INSPECTED YOU WILL POSE NO PROBLEM WITH THE CHANGEOVER

I just had some R-22 refrigerant replaced in my A/C units and the cost was $26 per pound. This is on the Outer Banks of NC.

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