5 On Your Side

Older AC systems can drain your wallet as refrigerant prices soar

Posted July 10, 2013
Updated July 11, 2013

When it's boiling hot outside, it's time to turn down the temperature inside. But anyone who has called an air conditioning repairman lately for a freon boost knows prices are up after the federal government banned production of the popular R-22 refrigerant.
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— When it's boiling hot outside, it's time to turn down the temperature inside. But anyone who has called an air conditioning repairman lately for a refrigerant boost knows prices are up after the federal government banned production of the popular R-22 freon.

John Mazzuchelli had a refrigerant leak in one unit of his home.

"(It) was no longer cooling the upstairs," he said.

Mazzuchelli didn't want to spend thousands of dollars on a new system, so he called Weather Master Heating & Air Conditioning in Knightdale. He needed four pounds of refrigerant.

"When I got home, I got ... a bill for $743.06," he said. "I was pretty shocked to see that."

The R-22 freon alone cost $664, or $166 a pound.

"Right now, R-22 is one of the most expensive gasses on the market," said Corky Street with the state Board of Refrigeration Examiners.

Because of its impact on the ozone, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered all production of R-22 to stop by 2020. It's already been cut back significantly, sending prices way up. 

Older AC systems can drain your wallet as freon prices soar Older AC systems can drain your wallet as freon prices soar

"As we get closer to the 2020 mandate, where R-22 will never be made again, it's going to become probably the most expensive gas in our industry," Street said.

So, what does refrigerant cost now? The 5 On Your Side team called AC repair companies and found the prices vary widely. Most charge one amount for the first pound of refrigerant and less for additional pounds. The price for four pounds of refrigerant ranged from a low of $38 a pound to a high of $114 from Weather Master.

That's still much lower than the $166 per pound that Mazzuchelli paid, so 5 On Your Side called the company's service manager, Brian Boysen. He said the $114 price we were quoted over the phone was inaccurate, and that it's "against company policy" to provide that information over the phone.

However, he added that there was a "definite math error by the technician" and agreed to give Mazzuchelli a 50-percent refund of $332.

The refrigerant still cost him $83 a pound.

The alert for all of us: The next time the AC won't cool down without the help of a refrigerant boost, prepare to pay.

And keep in mind: beyond the varying prices for refrigerant, repair companies have different prices for their initial trip charge and leak search, so it can really pay to call around. Get as many prices as possible and do the math – sometimes it's better to just bite the bullet and replace an old system.

Street said online research can also turn up some alternative refrigerants that can work with older HVAC systems that use R-22.

17 Comments

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  • itsmyownopinion Jul 17, 10:55 a.m.

    I would highly recommend getting a home warranty such as AHS (American Home Shield). You simply pay the deductible, usually $75.00, and they cover whatever else needs to be repaired!

    AirBorne Daddy

    I have four contracts with AHS, and while their service calls jumped from $35 to $75, the service provider now charges for the freon separately, as AHS no longer covers the freon. Depending on the company, prices vary.

  • Tarheel7074 Jul 16, 3:10 p.m.

    So.......who had the lowest price on R-22, so folks will know who will not rip them off on this next time they need refrigerant for their AC?

  • -Enter Screen Name- Jul 15, 7:54 p.m.

    @davidgnews - Ummmm...wasn't R134a the replacement for R-12, used in cars? How is that applicable to a home A/C unit?

    R-22 is what was previously (in the US) used in home A/C units, and that's been replaced by R410A.

  • beef Jul 15, 4:53 p.m.

    Google AHS before you buy. There are class actions going on. These policies have a lot of little things they do not cover, like getting permits, carting away the old stuff, etc. The service tech takes a loss on the part that AHS does cover and they recoup by overcharging you for the rest. There is no free lunch.

  • NoObamaCare Jul 15, 12:54 p.m.

    I would highly recommend getting a home warranty such as AHS (American Home Shield). You simply pay the deductible, usually $75.00, and they cover whatever else needs to be repaired!

  • davidgnews Jul 11, 4:31 p.m.

    You can thank DuPont for this when they got behind that 'ozone' story, which is a myth. Freon was going off-patent, and DuPont didn't want widespread 3rd world access. 134 may be better, or not, but the scam is right where DuPont wants it.

  • ncsubvet Jul 11, 3:56 p.m.

    @thinkin out loud - yes there are companies out there that are trying to rip you off and charge way too much as well as huge mark up on parts. But you can't judge the entire industry from one or two bad ones that you run into. There are companies in every industry that are the same way but that does not mean all of them are like that. I am sorry that you had that experience but do know that there are honest people in the HVAC industry that will not try to rip you off. I have been doing HVAC for years and not once has anyone accused me of being a rip off. In fact I have many repeat customers because of the way I treat them.

  • thinkin out loud Jul 11, 3:03 p.m.

    This entire industry is a ripoff scam. I was quoted over $800.00 for repairs on a unit that I fixed myself for $60.00. It was worth the $90.00 diagnosis fee I still had to pay but I bought the parts from the same supplier they use only they did an over 1000% markup.

    Same thing happened with another company that wanted to charge me $80.00 for a $14.00 capacitor. Get the diagnosis and you can find parts at Longley Supply in Raleigh. If you can't install them you probably have a friend or neighbor that can.

  • ncsubvet Jul 11, 2:27 p.m.

    What do new HVAC units use for refrigerant? -sww

    Most new units especially residential use 410a

  • delete account Jul 11, 1:36 p.m.

    Beware the new HFO-1234YF. Mercedes can't sell its 2013 models in France because the R-134 they use is outlawed in new cars. The replacement 1234YF is a little to explode-y for Mercedes' tastes.

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