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Angie’s List: Coolant Changes – Repair or Replace Your Air Conditioner

SPRINGFIELD,  Mass. (WGGB) — If you need to have coolant added to your air conditioner this summer, brace yourself.  You might be in for a shock.

The cost for fixing that leak could cost you more than in years past.

Federal regulations have turned what was a commonly available air conditioning system refrigerant into a scarce resource. And that may make a lot of homeowners sweat this summer.

Consumers have reported spending two and three times the amount for a common type of refrigerant than in previous years.

Angie’s List, the nation’s leading provider of consumer reviews, asked highly rated heating and cooling companies about these regulations.

The reason for the cost increase can actually be traced back to action taken by the federal government 25 years ago.

In 1987, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the phasing out of certain ozone-depleting refrigerants as part of the Montreal Protocol. The act calls for 90 percent of R-22 coolant, commonly called “Freon,” to be phased out by 2015 and to be virtually obsolete by 2020.

Most air conditioners manufactured before 2010 use the coolant. The new EPA-approved coolant, known as R-410A, does not work with the R-22 equipment.

Refrigerant leaks are a common problem with air conditioners. Over a couple of years, most units will lose a pound or two of the eight pounds of coolant typically needed to keep the machine pumping chilled air throughout your home.

Angie’s List Tips: Options for homeowners

The rate increase is sure to pose issues for homeowners with older, leaky equipment. Many are faced with the prospect of continuing to invest in higher repair costs for older equipment, or taking the plunge and replacing the equipment with a newer, more efficient system that uses the new coolant.

Having a conversation about your options with a licensed and qualified heating and cooling company can help homeowners determine if they should repair existing equipment or replace it. Any technician who handles refrigerant must be certified by the EPA to work with the coolant.

Homeowner opting for repair should be prepared to also pay additional costs to cover service, labor and any other parts necessary.

For homeowners who don’t want to invest in an entirely new system but also don’t want to keep investing in repairs, some manufacturers have circumvented the EPA guidelines, which called for an end to production of A/C units “charged”, or filled, with R-22, by producing units that use the old coolant but don’t come charged with it. These are often called “dry” units. Though these units generally cost less than a whole new system, consumers will still have to fill them with the old refrigerant, which is only likely to only get more expensive in the years to come.



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