After The Watchdog reported how expensive it will be to replace refrigerant in older air-conditioning systems, I heard from HVAC techs across the U.S.
Every one of them had a different opinion about what to do.
That’s the reason I can’t stand dealing with air-conditioning repairs. If three techs come to your house to make a bid on a project, each one will see and say something different.
I first learned that 25 years ago when I moved here, bought a house and sued the builder in small claims court because the air-conditioning system was poorly installed.
Before the suit, which I won, I heard from one tech after another, each with a different diagnosis. Nothing has changed.
In my previous story, I talked with Roy Jones, president of the Texas Air Conditioning Contractors Association, about how Freon will be harder to get and more expensive starting in January because of environmental regulations.
Older-style Freon (R-22) is bad for the ozone layer, according to Environmental Protection Agency standards.
Last month, my old system leaked 8 pounds of Freon, so I splurged and sprung for a new system, using the newer refrigerant, R-410A.
I reported that, then heard from these fellows, whose advice was all over the map.
Steve Hasse of Boise, Idaho: “How much money do you invest in an old unit that still uses R-22? ... If you really love your old system, you can use R-44 as a replacement for R-22. But as the system ages you are more likely to get leaks. You just have to roll the dice and say, ‘How much money do I put into an old system?’”
John Faust of Columbia, South Carolina: “The most insulting statement is that selling you a new unit is a sales pitch. We are required by law to either repair or condemn equipment that has a leak rate in excess of 10% a year. Failure to do so opens us up to fines in the tens of thousands of dollars per incident and the potential for loss of our EPA license.
“Quite frankly, an unethical company would prefer you keep the R-22 unit because it’s a cash cow. Selling you a new unit lowers our liability, increases the customer’s efficiency, saves the customer money over time and protects the environment from refrigerant leakage.”
Jim Rickerson of Spokane, Washington: “Two pounds is a significant leak for a residential system. Most consumers don’t know any better, and the companies are seeing dollar signs because of this. ... You could have possibly gotten many more years out of your old equipment unless you had a catastrophic failure.”
Brennan Pralle of Lakewood, Colorado: “There are companies and contractors whose primary goal is the big-ticket replacement project. However, a system repair and upgrade often would provide more value.”
He suggests replacement refrigerants R-422B and Nu-22.
Dave Del Polito of Nutley, New Jersey: He disagreed with my decision to replace the system. He said the leak could have been fixed. “Use a dye and find the leak. Repair it and it will continue to work.”
B.J. Melton of Richardson: “Your refrigerant problems reminded me of the quotation, ‘Fools walk where angels fear to tread.’ I am not calling you a fool, because you are not. [You’re] just short on the R-22 hoax. I say hoax because that’s what it is.
“For several years I have been paying to add two pounds of R-22 every six months. It ain’t cheap. So last month I bit the bullet and paid $8,000 for a replacement. The EPA bought the hoax, and we are stuck with it.”
Christopher Russell of Charlotte, North Carolina: “You could have converted your system to R407C or R438. Find the leak, change the refrigerant to the replacements and if it leaks again, it will be cheaper to add.
“Change the equipment when the compressor goes or the evaporator is not repairable anymore. ... Most HVAC techs are salesmen that make commission, so he sells a new unit, he makes more. I said ‘most,’ not all. ... My advice: if it costs more than $500 to fix it, call around. You may be surprised.”
Like I said, nobody has the same story. But calling around is obviously the way to go here. If this proves anything, the first opinion is not necessarily the right one. It’s only the first one.