A/C repair costs skyrocket as R-22 coolant being phased out in early 2020

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The cost of keeping cool is heating up thanks to a looming ban of what used to be the most common refrigerant used in air conditioners.

When an air conditioning unit needs to be repaired and it requires refrigerant — fixing it could be pricey.

Here’s why: The coils in older systems use something called R-22 refrigerant and that’s getting tougher and tougher to obtain.

“R-22 Refrigerant is being phased out January 2020,” says Clay Ewing, a residential field supervisor at Allen Kelly & Company. After 2020, “It will no longer be manufactured here, nor can it be imported.”

As the supply of the refrigerant dwindles, prices for it have fluctuated wildly.

As a result, air-conditioning contractors say the price of R-22 is one of the biggest expenses driving up repair costs these days.

R-22 — sometimes referred to by its brand name Freon — is being eliminated to protect the environment.

Thirty years ago contractors could buy a 30 pound cylinder of R-22 for $20 wholesale. Now, it’s between $400 and $800 wholesale — depending on demand.

When R-22 is resold to consumers, to refill their an A/C unit, they can pay as much as $200 bucks a pound after the mark-up.

An air conditioning unit that holds eight pounds of R-22 refrigerant can amount to a pretty pricey fill-up if it needs a complete refill.

Most newer units use R-410 refrigerant, but that refrigerant can’t be used in units requiring R-22 — it’ll wreck them.

If an older unit is leaking refrigerant there are some substitute coolants which might be viable replacements to keep it running — but service contractors aren’t sure if that’ll void warranties.

“We’re in contact with manufacturers right now, getting their thoughts on ‘hey if we put this in, will you still back compressor warranties or anything like that — will it void anything if we do it’,” said Ewing.

But, the cost of removing any R-22 residue, combined with refilling the unit with a substitute refrigerant, and other repairs to leaking coils may cost as much as buying a new unit.

“If you’ve got a builder’s grade piece of equipment and it’s 15 years old maybe it makes sense to replace it,’’ said Ewing.

By then he says, the unit has pretty much reached the end of its usable life.

Also, something to know: retrofitting air conditioning units to use a substitute for R-22 won’t work for every machine so that might not even be an alternative for you.

Before you consider whether you should retrofit or replace an air conditioning unit, make sure the service contractor provides prices for both options.

That will help with making an educated decision: repair or replace.

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