The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 17, 2013

Air conditioning on the fritz? Could be a refrigerant issue

By Lauren Boyer
The York Daily Record, Pa. (MCT)

YORK — A blue Chrysler minivan pulls into an alcove near the corner of West Princess Street and South Richland Avenue in York.

A man gets out, and “The Freon Don“ moves in, taking the driver’s seat and checking the temperature of air streaming from the vents.

It doesn’t look good.

“It’s cold, but not as cold as it should be,“ Don Mason says. “If your air conditioning isn’t working properly, you want a pressure check. That will tell you everything.“

Mason, through his business, offers free refrigerant pressure checks, he says — no obligation.

“I’ve had a lot of people thank me, even though I didn’t fix anything,“ he said. “I just showed them what the problem was.“

Recently laid off, the York resident promotes his business from the trunk of his Subaru Forester and rents nearby garage space, he said, where he can recharge your car’s refrigerant for between $50 to $75.

Mason uses the brand Enviro-Safe, a hydrocarbon refrigerant, but frequently refers to it as the more well known brand “Freon,“ a registered trademark of DuPont.

Recharging means “adding Freon to a system that doesn’t have enough pressure,“ he said. “It makes the air cooler.“

In this heat, it could be big business.With high humidity and temperatures in the 90s this week, cars become unbearable saunas on wheels when the AC is on the fritz.

“Ninety percent of the time, (the Freon) is just empty,“ Mason said. “Why do they go empty? Freon should last the lifetime of your vehicle, but it leaks out.“

Same goes for the air conditioner in your home, said Ben Stambaugh, vice president of Gohn & Stambaugh in Springettsbury Township.

Sometimes, he said, replacing a leaking air conditioner with a newer model is more cost effective than replacing the refrigerant alone.The Montreal Protocol has caused a shortage of R-22, the type of refrigerant used in most home air conditioners, Stambaugh said.

The international treaty — enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — phases out manufacturing of new R-22 and other refrigerants that deplete the ozone, he said.

“There’s very little, if any, new R-22 being produced,“ Stambaugh said. “Supply and demand drives the cost of R-22 up quite greatly.“

Stambaugh said that some HVAC repair shops charge between $75 to $300 per pound for refrigerant. The average air conditioning unit holds eight to 10 pounds of Freon and has a life span between 12 and 15 years.

New

air conditioners, he said, are being made to run on R-410a, a refrigerant deemed safe by the EPA.

“If your air conditioner is R-22, I can’t just put R-410a in it,“ Stambaugh added. “It’s not compatible . . . Over time, it would be a smart investment to upgrade, unless it’s an easy leak to repair.“

David Yates, president of F.W. Behler in York, doesn’t buy the R-22 shortage.

“That was speculation on the part of the manufacturers,“ he said. “They raised the price even though there was no real shortage.“

Consumers have many options when it comes to fixing broken AC.

Compatible replacements for R-22, including MO99 Freon, are cheaper and environmentally friendly.

Plus, he said, the Montreal Protocol only phases out production of new, or “virgin,“ R-22.

Used refrigerant, including R-22, can be sold to a recycler for up to $12 per pound.

From there, it goes through a distillation process and is re-sold — as good as new R-22 refrigerant. he said.

Yates charges the same, he said, for the new and recycled compound — $30 per pound.

That price, he said, is higher than it was years ago, but not nearly as high as some shops try to charge.

“The cost almost quadrupled in a period of three months,“ Yates said. “Our markup is less than it used to be. We haven’t truly passed on all of our costs, and I don’t anticipate that we will either.“