Why Air Conditioning Repair Costs Are Getting So Expensive
A/C Repair Costs Are on the Rise for Older Units!
Many homeowners today are using a central air conditioning system that runs using a refrigerant called R-22. This is fine until you find out you have a leak in your system and see the bill for the refrigerant that they had to put into the system. Perhaps that's what has you reading this right now, trying to find an answer as to why you feel you were just held up by your HVAC technician.
I can't speak for the call charges or labor costs but as for the R-22, it's not his fault and you are not alone. This trend is going to get worse in time and eventually, you will be purchasing a 410a system to replace it. This is no accident and with the money you'd spend on keeping the R-22 unit, there would be no sense in stretching out the inevitable.
Let's take a look at the what, when, why, and how much the phasing out of R-22 is making your A/C repair costs skyrocket.
Is it time to upgrade your A/C unit?
What Is R-22?
As I mentioned, R-22 (a.k.a. Freon) is a refrigerant that is used in air conditioning. Refrigerants are special because of their extremely low boiling points when under certain pressures. Sparing the science, this is needed to make air conditioning possible among other uses for CFC's. (propellants, aerosols, etc...)
However, there is a problem with CFC's.
Why Is R-22 Harmful and Being Phased Out?
R-22 is a CFC. (Chlorofluorocarbon = Chlorine + Fluorine + Carbon) The issue with this is that when CFC's reach the atmosphere they begin to destroy Ozone (O3) by robbing from it's molecular structure. Seeing that Ozone is the sort of protective atmospheric layer that shields us from much of the sun's UV light, that is not a good thing.
On the other hand, 410a is an HFC. (Hydrofluorocarbon = Hydrogen + Flourine + Carbon) The molecular structure of an HFC does not react with Ozone as does the CFC. There is no "robbing" going on between the 2 because HFC's are less stable and tend to "break apart" before reaching the ozone layer.
Of course, as we all know, when something starts becoming rare, it becomes costly. With the phasing out of R-22, if your A/C is using it, expect your air conditioning repair costs to become more and more unreasonable.
Were you stunned by your last A/C repair bill?
410a - The New Refrigerant for A/C
410a systems (HFC refrigerant replacement for R-22) have been around for a while now, but the cost is much more affordable than it used to be. With a safer refrigerant, much higher efficiency rating and...oh yea, EPA approval, the 410a systems are the "New Cool".
NOTE: A/C efficiency is rated by SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating). The lowest SEER rating on the market today is 13 with 20 being the highest as of now. A rating of 15 or higher qualifies you for a tax break.
Why Does R-22 Cost So Much?
As with many other products, (i.e. R-12 when it was phased out) when the supply goes down and the demand is up, the cost goes up as well. In this case, the cost of R-22 has skyrocketed over the last few years due to the phasing out of R-22 production. A 30 gallon jug of R-22 that was approximately $100 a few years ago in now going at the rate of nearly $350. ($12 per/lb)
The Montreal Protocol is the international agreement that lays out the plan to phase out CFC's and HCFC's. In the U.S., this is upheld by the EPA via the Clean Air Act. As of today, the phase out schedule looks like this:
January 1, 2010 (implemented)
No more R-22 using equipment is to be manufactured.
January 1, 2015
Ban on sale and use of R-22 except for servicing existing equipment.
January 1, 2020
Ban on production and import of R-22.
What Will R-22 Cost in the Future?
It is being speculated that the cost of R-22 will increase by approximately 5% per year until it is phased out all together. I would say this is a safe estimate based on what I've seen so far and on what had happened to the cost of R-12 when it was banned. In the past few years the cost of R-22 has increased well over a 100% and in my personal, non-governmental, non-professional opinion, I will not be shocked if a 30 gallon jug of refrigerant is at $500 within the next couple of years.
UPDATE: Since this article was written, R-22 has now reached nearly $500 per jug as projected. Wow!
Most of Us Own R-22 Air Conditioning Systems
Will what's happening with R-22 affect you at some point?
So What Does All This Mean?
Well, to those of you who have 410An operating systems already...not really anything. For those of us with R-22 systems, it means begin saving for your new 410A system. The service fees you will incur adding refrigerant to an R-22 unit over the next few years could be extreme and you will still be stuck with the same old unit. Not to mention you'll have to spend money on repairing the leak so that you don't have to keep adding R-22 every year.
Don't Get Taken Advantage Of
If you are being told you need to top off your system yearly, you are being swindled unless you are told of the leak and agree not to repair it (which is not acceptable by EPA standards in residential central air conditioning and licensing).
An A/C is a sealed system and refrigerant doesn't go bad. You should only need to add refrigerant if you have a leak and if you have a leak, it should be repaired. Also, if there is no problem with your A/C, don't let the technician hook up gauges unnecessarily. Every time those gauges go on your system, they rob small amounts of refrigerant from it.
Now You Know...
So whether this article has given you an idea for a future investment (which you would have to be licensed to even do) or has just prepared you for what is to come in the HVAC world, I hope it has been useful and helped you understand what is going on with the cost of A/C repairs.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.