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)
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.
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