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Need An Air Conditioner Recharge? Why You'll Pay More Now...

Posted by Bonnie Bornstein Fertel on Mon, Jul 08, 2013 @ 07:44 AM

Bornstein Sons offers advice on air conditioner recharge and why freon costs so much todayNeed an Air Conditioner Recharge?

Why You'll Pay So Much More Today... and what you can do about it...



Air Conditioning contractor's phones are 'ringing off the hook' these past few weeks, and many of the telephone calls we local air conditioning companies get pertain to air conditioning recharge services. WHY? Because R-22, aka 'Freon', is going to become obsolete, as we've mentioned so many times in the past few years...going the wayside like it's brethren R500 so many years before. And consumers are shocked, and price-shopping. At the end of the day (and it's a hot one) the costs are high and going to get higher.

Ask anyone that may care or know, and you'll find reasonable explanations.

Here are what some experts say: "The regulations have changed when it comes to air conditioners," said Angie Hicks, founder of the consumer group Angie’s List. "The older models use a Freon that is not going to be available in a few years and because of that production of that Freon has reduced causing the price to go up. So if you have to replace the Freon in an older model you are likely going to pay more this year.”

Dan Schaffer of ABC News recently wrote in an online article: "As we approach the dog days of summer, you might be thinking about recharging your air conditioner to keep it cooling efficiently. But be warned. The price of traditional R-22 freon is climbing faster than the temperatures and the bill for a service call is likely to make your blood boil."

Other HVAC contractors have been reported to say that "topping off" your refrigerant could cost you around $600. And this is just the entry point...Our experience tells us that typically if an air conditioning system requires refrigerant, it isn't usually just a pound or two, which is what "topping off" means. More likely, because of the nature of a leak in an air conditioning system refrigerant line, a system can be "flat" or totally void of refrigerant, requiring not only a substantial amount of the 'liquid gold' but also further investigation of why the leak occured and the possible hunt to determine where the leak may be and if indeed it's repairable.

Some folks consider replacing a small amount of refrigerant each year part of the expense of having central air conditioning, and that's fine, when the 'liquid gold' was relatively inexpensive. By comparison today, magnified by the tremendous cost increase, this may not make sense any longer.

Around 1987, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered a timeline for phasing out ozone-depleting refrigerants. Taking front stage position was the then-new 410A refrigerant, commonly called 'Ozone Friendly'. The timeline is now before us and the result is the scarcety of the commodity that works along with your air conditioning system to keep you cool. That 1987 act called for 90% of the coolant to become totally obsolete by 2020 and the vast majority by 2015. 2015 is around the corner!

A change such as this translates to the replacement of older air conditioning systems with newer (and far more efficient) cooling systems that use the newer environmentally-appropriate 401A refrigerant.

And, as you might expect, the cost of the R22 refrigerant has become enormously expensive...and soon will become rare and then...totally unavailable.

A leak in an air conditioning system the size of a pencil point can empty the system within hours. That's why your air conditioner may cool you off at first, but soon you'll notice warm air blowing from the ducts.

There's virtually little that can be done to avoid refrigerant leaks. Similar to the glass-lined tank of a water heater, the expansion and contraction of many parts of the system, along with the vibration caused by the unit turning on and off thousands of times during its lifetime, and the occasional 'bump' caused by a lawn mower or weed wacker, and no wonder the unit starts showing its age. Once an air conditioning unit reaches maturity, some breakdown of the equipment is unavoidable and once the cost of repairs outweighs the cost of replacment the decision becomes obvious.

What do you do? Well you have a few options...

  • Bite the bullet...and continue with repairs, knowing that service costs will increase exponentially.
  • Invest in a leak detection service call which includes the insertion of a special photo-fluorescent dye and necessitates the return with equipment to attempt to locate the leak and, if possible, repair it - but the reader should know that this is a costly expenditure which may result in the decision to replace the system.
  • Consider replacement of your older, inefficient system with a new system using the environmentally safe refrigerant (which will also save you money).
  • Ask your contractor about a "dry ship" condensing unit (if that's all you need).
    • Purchasing a unit that is shipped without any refrigerant in the system will of course require that the soon-to-disappear refrigerant be used to fill the system, which of course will cost more - but it should buy you a few more years before you replace the entire system.
    • This is also a great option for a homeowner that expects to sell their home might consider.

The bottom line is that R22 will continue to increase in price, become scarce, and eventually unavailable. The units that use R22 will become more costly and also will have a phase-out schedule. Central air conditioning is no longer a luxury, and hard working consumers deserve to be comfortable. Comfort costs money...but spend it wisely and consider your options. Discuss your options with your local AC professional.

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Topics: Recharge AC

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