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“Freon,” the DuPont Trade name, is how most people know R-22 refrigerant. In addition, it is commonly known that home air conditioners use “Freon,” or “coolant” or “gas” for cooling. The only unfortunate fact so far this year is for customers who have needed some Freon added to their unit – they discovered the cost of R-22 has risen substantially.
On or about January 30, 2012, the EPA, which governs the allotment of R-22 that is allowed into the market in the United States, decided it was best to cut the allotment by 47%. This has caused a severe spike in price for several reasons. First, the lowering of the allotment made R-22 less available – a simple supply and demand concept. The rationing of R-22 has already begun for daily purchases to as low as two cylinders per company per day. Also, the speculations of what this will mean for the future and fears of even further cuts have caused the prices to jump sharply.
R-22 is an HCFC gas that is believed to have ozone-depleting properties. The Montreal Protocol of 1989 set the timetable for the reduction of all ozone-depleting CFCs and HCFCs. The times were set based on the depleting factors the EPA said each refrigerant had. CFC R-12 that was used in refrigerators and car air conditioners was the first since it was thought it had the most effect on the ozone. HCFC R-22 was not thought to be as bad, so the timeline was not as urgent, but its time has come.
A common practice for homeowners in the past was to have the unit refilled with refrigerant since that was a less expensive option than paying to locate the leak and having it repaired. With the price of R-22 now, and even more so when it gets higher, it makes better “cents” to have a leak check performed to know where the leak is and to be able to assess the cost of the repair. It would then be up to the homeowner to make the daunting decision of repairing the existing system or having the unit replaced.
The pros of repairing the existing system are to stop the current leak in order to stop the ever-increasing repair costs; in most cases, this would be less expensive than replacement. The cons are that you still have an older unit that may start leaking elsewhere. You are repairing and continuing to run a less efficient unit, and repairing an older unit that could have other mechanical failures.
The pros are you will have a new and more efficient unit, a unit that uses the R-410a refrigerant, a warranty that on most units is for 10 years, less operating costs that the old unit, and a unit that should keep the house more comfortable.
The clear fact is that R-22 is on its way out. Any repair to a unit that uses R-22 must be weighed out over the replacement costs. I think that by the summer of 2014, R-22 prices will be double what they are currently and the cost of the repairs to an R-22 unit will eventually be higher than even the cost of replacement. The decision, for now, is a hard one to make, but we are available to give you any information that is needed to make the most informed decision.