Soon we will be in air conditioning time. Three-quarters of all homes in the United States have air conditioners. Air conditioners use about 6% of all the electricity produced in the United States, at an annual cost of about $29 billion to homeowners. As a result, roughly 117 million metric tons of carbon dioxide is released into the air each year.
As you get ready for the air conditioning season, one of the critical ingredients in this process is the Freon that helps make your system work. It is also one of the most expensive elements in air conditioner repairs. Here is what you need to know about adding Freon to your air conditioning unit.
Older ACs need to use R-22 refrigerant or Freon. It’s expensive ($120-$135 a pound and rising) because its being phased out. This means there’s less supply for something that’s still in high demand, so cost goes up. Newer air conditioning systems use the more environmentally friendly R-410A refrigerant. By 2020, R-22 can no longer be used in air conditioning units. Unfortunately, R-22 charged units are not compatible with R-410 refrigerant, so you’ll have to replace the entire system.
They tell me, “To add Freon to my Air Conditioner System”
An AC doesn’t “use up” refrigerant. So you should never need to recharge your air conditioner with more Freon—unless there’s a leak.
Yet, here’s a scenario we hear about way too often:
- AC isn’t blowing cold air
- Some air conditioning tech says you need Freon
- You pay to put 1-2 pounds in your system (this is called “charging” your AC unit)
- AC works for the summer
- Next summer, repeat steps 1-4
Not only is this more expensive for you (you have to keep paying to recharge your AC), but if your system still uses the R-22 refrigerant, it’s also extremely bad for the environment. R-22 is being phased out because it depletes the ozone, which contributes to climate change.
Three Options for Adding Freon to Your Aid Conditioning System
Just as a doctor takes into account your whole body’s health when assessing your symptoms, an AC tech should look at your entire air conditioning system before making a diagnosis and prescription.
In this case, the air conditioning technician should:
- Look at your air filter and thermostat
- Inspect the indoor unit
- Take the cover off your outdoor unit to look for problems
Why not just immediately measure the amount of refrigerant in the air conditioner? If you have other problems (dirty air filter, frozen evap coils, etc.), they will affect the reading of the refrigerant charge in your central air conditioner.
So, once they’ve inspected everything else, the technician will know if their tool for measuring Freon is accurate or not. If refrigerant is low, they should tell you about the leak.
Rather than just saying, “You need more refrigerant; here’s the cost,” your AC technician should let you know that you are low on refrigerant and explain to you that means you have a leak. Then, depending on your situation, they may give you a couple options that can include:
Option 1: Recharging your AC without fixing the leak
Yes, we just said that’s not a good idea. But finding and fixing a leak can be expensive. So you may not want to do it if both of the following are true:
- You’ve never had to recharge the unit before—The leak is likely a slow one and recharging the unit may get you through the summer.
- You’re going to be replacing the unit within the next year—No use in sinking money into something you’ll soon be replacing.
However, even if you go this route, we recommend having the tech put in a UV dye with the new refrigerant. Then, the next time your AC is low on refrigerant, the AC tech can easily locate the leak and let you know the cost to fix.
Option 2: Finding and fixing the leak
The tech will likely give you a price to locate the leak. Then, once they’ve found the leak, they’ll give you the price to fix the leak, which will depend on where it’s located. In many cases, the AC tech will have to:
- Find the leak using electronic equipment, UV dye or a bubbling agent
- Evacuate all the refrigerant (this is a fancy word for removing the refrigerant from the system)
- Fix the leak
- Recharge the air conditioner
- Test to make sure the leak has been fixed
Option 3: Replacing the unit
Yes, we know replacing the whole unit because of a refrigerant leak seems extreme. And it doesn’t happen that often. But in some situations it makes sense.
For example, let’s say your air conditioner is 14+ years old and to fix the leak we have to replace the condensing coil. Do you really want to put $1,000+ into your current system when you’ll still likely need a whole new system in a year or less?
We wouldn’t. This is usually the case if your system uses R-22 refrigerant and the fix for the leak is extremely costly. Since R-22 is being phased out, parts are harder to come by and more expensive. And so is the refrigerant itself.
In the long run, upgrading to a new system that uses R-410A refrigerant may be a better choice. (Plus, this new refrigerant is better for the environment!)
Now you have Three Options for Adding Freon to Your Aid Conditioning System. Give us a call and let us help get your air conditioning system operating properly for the summer season.