5 On Your Side

Does your air conditioner use an outdated coolant?

Posted June 1, 2010 5:20 p.m. EDT
Updated June 1, 2010 6:15 p.m. EDT

— The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently banned the use of the refrigerant R-22 in any systems manufactured starting this year. New units use a different coolant.

Johnny Smith, owner of Total Comfort Heating & Air Conditioning in Clayton, said homeowners who still have a unit that uses R-22 should not worry. The coolant will be produced until 2020.

Two years ago, retail price for a pound of refrigerant was between $30 and $40. Now, it's between $70 and $80, and the price is expected to keep going up. Smith said there is currently a shortage of the new refrigerant being used, R-410, so the price for that is also up.

As for parts, most manufacturers have a five-year parts warranty. Some have 10 years or longer.

“They’re going to produce parts up to a certain point. Beyond 10, 15 years, I doubt they’ll produce parts of an existing system,” Smith said.

The EPA says that's the point of the long phase-out period. It allows time to replace air conditioners when people normally would when they are old, inefficient or ineffective. If a system breaks after the average life expectancy of 12 to 15 years, the choice comes down to the costs of repair versus replacement.

Smith says routine maintenance twice a year will help any system last longer. Consumers should also keep bushes away from the unit and frequently change the filters.

People can determine if their system uses R-22 by checking a panel on the side of the unit.