If your air conditioning goes out – look out for counterfeit refrigerants

AC unit_431209

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As the most common refrigerant for air conditioning units becomes more scarce and expensive, counterfeit refrigerants are flooding the market.

Those fake refrigerants are posing a safety issue for you as well as a danger that they could ruin your entire air conditioning system.

In this part of the country, air conditioning is as necessary as electricity or running water.

Many of us don’t think about our A/C units until they stop working.

If your A/C needs refrigerant to fix it, you could find the repairs have become very pricey.

Air conditioning contractors say the price of R-22 refrigerant is one of their biggest expenses driving up repair costs these days.

“It’s exorbitantly expensive today,” says Brian Kelly of Allen Kelly & Company of Raleigh.

R-22, sometimes referred to by its brand name “Freon,” is being phased out to protect the Ozone, which is why it’s getting so expensive.

But, 30 years ago it was a different story.

Contractors say they could buy a cylinder of R-22 for $20 dollars wholesale, now that same size cylinder is about $800 dollars wholesale.

And consumers are well aware of the increased repair costs.

“R-22 is very expensive. A shop I worked at had some repairs done and it was $300 to 400 dollars to fill small compressors,” says Bruce Temple, who noticed increased refrigerant costs.

New A/C units use a coolant known as R-410a, but there are still tons of units out there that use R-22.

And the skyrocketing price of it is spawning a lot of counterfeits, which if used, can wreck your A/C unit or worse.

“It can actually create compressor problems,” explains Kelly. “The compressor is like the engine on your car – you don’t want to replace it.”

The ATF reports some counterfeit refrigerants have actually exploded or caused fires destroying both A/C units and adjacent homes.

HVAC contractors are trying to avoid getting scammed by counterfeit refrigerants. They look for a special seal enclosing the valves of their canisters and make sure they buy from a reputable wholesaler.

“We won’t deal with a third-party supplier,” says Kelly. “We’re not buying it off a pickup truck or a flea market in Wake County.”

Some R-22 manufacturers like DuPont have gone a step further, adding specially designed security labels to their products so contractors know the R-22 they are buying is legit.

But, as consumer, how can you make sure you’re A/C unit is protected against counterfeit coolants?

You should make your service tech has what’s known as EPA section 608 Certification which requires the tech know about things like Ozone depletion, substitute refrigerants and safety.

You should also be very skeptical of a really cheap price quotes for an R-22 recharge, which would indicate the repair tech is using a low cost counterfeit.

Also, look closely at the labeling of the refrigerant your tech using.

You can learn more about R-22 and its replacements here.

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