Dear Angie: My air conditioning contractor just charged me $100 a pound for R-22 refrigerant. This is a lot more than I paid four years ago. Is this a fair price? — Albert M., West Babylon, N.Y.
Answer: Prices for R-22 refrigerant, commonly known as Freon, definitely have risen during the past few years.
Here's why: About 25 years ago, the EPA ordered the phasing out of R-22 as part of an international treaty, called the Montreal Protocol, to protect the ozone layer because of the refrigerant's ozone-depleting substances.
As part of the agreement, production ended in 2010 for new air-conditioning units "charged" with R-22. and production of the refrigerant itself was reduced by 75 percent.
By 2015, there will be a 90 percent reduction in the production of R-22. By 2020, it no longer will be produced.
Because production is limited, costs to existing units that are leaking R-22 refrigerant have gone up and are only expected to rise.
I've spoken with a number of highly rated heating and cooling contractors on Angie's List and, depending on how much of a supply they have and how much they paid when they bought it, these companies are charging three and four times more than they did a few years ago. Companies have quoted prices ranging from $35 to $175 a pound.
That comes with a caveat, though. For example, a company representative in the Long Island, N.Y., area told me he charges $35 a pound, but that does not include the service charge. Most companies seem to charge about $115 for the labor. So, if your contractor charged you $100 to replenish 1 pound and that included the labor, it sounds like you got a pretty good deal.
All that said, I think you need to look at the bigger issue here. You said you paid to have R-22 added to your A/C four years ago. Really, R-22 should never need to be replaced. If your system needs R-22, that means you have a leak. Rather than continuing to pay these increased costs to replenish the leaking R-22, I recommend you find a qualified heating and cooling company to repair the leak.
A reputable HVAC technician also can advise you if it makes sense to continue investing in your existing A/C, or if you're better off replacing it. Heating and cooling companies can recycle R-22 from existing units, which then can been reused to service units beyond 2020. However, as these costs continue to rise, you might find you're better off replacing your R-22 unit with one that uses the more environmentally friendly R-410A. Unfortunately, units charged with R-22 are not compatible with R-410 refrigerant, so you'll have to replace the entire system.
The good news is that, if you do invest in a new unit, it will be more environmentally friendly and more energy efficient. You'll save money on your monthly cooling costs — those long-term savings can really add up — plus you can take advantage of federal Energy Star tax credits of up to $300 if you buy a qualifying air conditioner this year.