Why is the Refrigerant for My Air Conditioner So Expensive?

By Sonny Swann

Anyone who has had a repair to their air conditioner recently can be left wondering why it was so expensive. Much of the cost increase can be attributed to the rising cost of the refrigerant, R-22. As a result of the Montreal Protocol and the 1990 Clean Air Act, the EPA has a begun a phase out of all ozone depleting substances, including R-22. R-22 is commonly called Freon by homeowners. Beginning in 2010, freon could not be used in new HVAC installations, and it has been replaced by R-410a, commonly called Puron.

How does this affect you? The industry recognized the refrigerant would be needed in the years to come for servicing and repairing and would need to be continued to be produced until 2020. Despite that, the EPA recently proposed an accelerated phase out of R-22 which caused the price to increase by 400% over the past two months. There is still enough R-22 available for your HVAC service company to complete repairs, but those repair bills will be considerably higher. Industry experts are predicting the cost of Freon to continue to rise.

Here are some guidelines on how to act on this information:

If you system is over 10 years old:

This would be a good time to take a proactive look at replacing your system with a more efficient one that uses R-410a.

If your system has R-22 and is operating well:

As long as the system is operating well, you can feel comfortable using it. Your service provider will have R-22 available, but expect higher repair bills.

If your system has R-22 and the compressor fails or you have a refrigerant leak:

This is where the cost of repairing an older unit may be counter productive. Investing in a major repair of a system that uses the older refrigerant can be very costly, only slightly less than a new system. Many homeowners will benefit in efficiency and cost of ownership by upgrading to a new system at this time.

If you’re in doubt about if you could benefit by upgrading your system, or don’t know what type of refrigerant your system uses, contact a qualified service company for advice.

Sonny Swann holds a degree in mechanical engineering and numerous certifications in the HVAC industry. His family owns and operates Climatic Heating and Cooling, where he serves as Vice President.