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Angie’s List: AC Coolant Changes

jim-donovan-web Jim Donovan
Jim Donovan is a 13-time Emmy Award-winning consumer reporter w...
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By Jim Donovan

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

In this week’s Angie’s List report, Jim Donovan explains how fixing that leak could cost you more than it has in years past.

There are new regulations when it comes to air conditioners, so if you’ve got an older model they could impact you.

“Older models use a Freon that is not going to be available in a few years and because of that production of that Freon has reduced causing the price to go up. So if you have to replace the Freon in an older model, you are likely going to pay more this year,” said Angie’s List founder, Angie Hicks.

Adding Freon to a leaky unit used to cost a couple hundred dollars. Now it could easily run between five and six hundred dollars. So if your air conditioner does need a repair, you need to consider whether it’s worth fixing.

“What many people don’t realize that your heating and cooling expensive represent about 50 percent of you energy bills. So if your air conditioner is getting a little on the old side, maybe it’s seven, eight, nine years old and you’ve got a repair, you want to make sure repairing it is the best move,” said Hicks.

So talk with your cooling and heating company about options.

“When you consult with your heating and cooling company ask them about the developments that are happening with the Freon and how long you’ll have to use your air conditioner because after a few years that Freon won’t be available at all anymore. They can help you time that purchase correctly and also help you to be able to understand how much you are going to save on your monthly bill by having a more efficient unit,” said Hicks.

More from Angie:

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.

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