As experts in the world of heating and air conditioning, here at Air Plus, we keep a sharp lookout for trends in our business to make sure that we pass along critical information to you. For the last two generations, California has had some of the toughest air quality laws and when it comes to the refrigerants that your air conditioning system uses, those laws are always being reviewed for the environmental impact that HVAC systems can have.
After all, in the modern world, every building has these systems and how they perform and are maintained is a critical factor in what ends up in the air we breathe.
One of the things we’ve watched over the years has been the studies on the commonly used refrigerant R-22. Now, many of you may remember that R-12 was used for many years in car A/C systems until it was abandoned in the 1995 model year, and R-22 has been the staple of building A/C unit refrigerants for years. Current legislation in the United States made it illegal to use or service any system with R-22 unless it was installed prior to 2010. Newer systems use R-410A and nearly anything installed after 2010 should be using this coolant.
The trouble rears its head when the time comes to recharge or fix a leak in an older system that uses R-22.
R-22 costs a lot. Since January of 2012, we’ve watched the price rise steadily in our market nearly 800%. Currently, a pound of R-22 costs roughly $100 and the average air conditioner uses approximately 4 pounds per ton.
Some quick math will tell you that your home’s 3-ton unit can easily run $1,200 simply to recharge, not including correcting the problem that caused the leak in the first place!
The reason for this increase in cost is that R-22 has been deemed harmful to the ozone layer. There’s a lot of science and pseudo-science out there, with some claiming that the particles of R-22 are too heavy to impact the actual ozone layer while others cite research that it does.
The problem is that the law has firmly come down against the use of R-22 going forward and the costs and supplies of it are spiking as older systems begin to incur issues due to age and usage. At the same time, the EPA has set guidelines in place to determine how much can actually be produced or imported and that has led to a projected shortage and increase in price.
As for us at Air Plus, we’ve been monitoring this supply quota and attempted to purchase as much as we could – allowing us to guarantee a supply for our own customers at a cost that is better than the going rate, but there simply isn’t much to be procured.
The real challenge for consumers is this – the recommended replacement, R-410A – is actually a mixture of refrigerants that are differently sized, so leakage rates of these different particles are different. The result? It can be difficult for technicians to determine what the percentages in the system are. Couple that with the fact that the pressures involved for an R-410A system are roughly 1.5 times the operating pressures of standard R-22 systems and you can see that recharging an older R-22 system with R-410A is a challenge that the equipment may not be a financially viable solution.
So what should you do?
If you have an older system, there is a very real concern if your unit develops a major issue. It becomes a very real financial decision for homeowners and property owners as to what direction that may need to be taken with a major repair. For example, if your system develops a major issue and was built prior to 2010, the replacement cost may be virtually the same as fixing what, in past years, would simply be an inexpensive repair. In the end, though, you’ll still have an older unit that will require expensive maintenance in the future.
As with any scenario when these questions arise, we are more than willing to provide the appropriate quotes on work for both repair and replacement. The good news is that as a result of this phase out, the companies that we have partnered with for years are offering some impressive deals for new units due to the high costs of repair and the dwindling supply of R-22.