First and foremost let me state right now that the word ‘Freon’ is not a generic name for all refrigerants on the market today. In fact Freon refers to a specific type of refrigerant and is a specific brand of refrigerant. Confused? Well let me explain it this way. Using the name Freon to refer to all refrigerants is like using the term ‘Accord’ to refer to all cars. Obviously, there is a large difference between a Camry, Accord, and a Fusion. They are all different cars and all have different capabilities. It is important to realize that the same applies when it comes to refrigerants.
The term Freon is a registered brand name by the DuPont company and the Chemours company. The name was trademarked all the way back in the 1930’s when the first mainstream CFC refrigerant was invented. This refrigerant known as R-12 was the first ‘Freon’ refrigerant. That is also why the name stuck. It was the first major refrigerant used widely across the world. Because of this everyone referred to it as it’s brand name of Freon. Not much later another refrigerant was developed by DuPont known as R-22. The R-12 and R-22 refrigerants in tandem are responsible for the revolution of the refrigerant industry and were used in nearly every automobile and home air-conditioner for decades and decades.
Sometime in the 1980’s a problem was found with these CFC and HCFC refrigerants that had the Freon brand name. These refrigerants contained Chlorine and Chlorine was found to be damaging the Ozone layer in the Stratosphere. This Ozone layer is what protected us from the ultraviolet rays from the sun. Without it the world would heat up, we would be exposed to more radiation, along with a host of other problems. Because of the world’s demand for refrigeration a hole began to form in the Ozone layer. Scientists found this hole and sounded the alarm. Soon after a treaty was signed across the world announcing the ban of CFC and HCFC refrigerants. This included the Freon branded refrigerants known as R-12 and R-22.
The EPA’s Refrigerant Sales Restriction
In past years end users or do-it-yourselfers were not able to purchase R-22 or R-12 refrigerant due to the Environmental Protection Agency’s refrigerant sales restriction. This restriction stated that in order for you to legally purchase these types of refrigerants you would need to be either 608 or 609 certified with the EPA. The section 608 and section 609 clauses come from the Clean Air Act of 1990. The point of this regulation was to prevent people who did not know what they were doing from accessing and handling refrigerant that contained Chlorine. Remember now that Chlorine was a main contributor to the hole that formed in the Ozone layer.
This restriction was a nuisance to a lot of do-it-yourselfers but it wasn’t an all out deterrent. After all, most of the refrigerants used in today’s world are known as HFC refrigerants. These include your ever popular R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A. Users could buy these refrigerants without requiring a license. However, after January 1st, 2018 the EPA passed a new regulation stating that HFC refrigerants would now need a proof of section 608 or 609 certification in order to purchase. As I write this article in March of 2018 the country is still seeing the effects of this change. People who used to buy thirty pound cylinders of 134 at their local NAPA dealer are now being turned away due to them not being certified.
Please note that there is one exception here. If the user wants to purchase two pounds or less cans of refrigerant they still can without needing a certification number. So, instead of buying your thirty pound tank of 134a you now have to buy fifteen cans at a higher price. The good news though is that you can still buy it. Some of the other refrigerants out there don’t have the option to purchase in one our two pound cans.
All of this criteria above is dictated by the EPA. For more information on the refrigerant restriction rules please go to the official EPA page. If you are seriously considering purchasing refrigerant then please do you research, obtain the proper certification, and then continue on reading this article for a list of distributors and contacts.
In that case it makes sense to have a look at our official refrigerant licensing guide.
So, What Kind of Refrigerant Do You Need?
Alright, so you are looking to purchase Freon/Refrigerant. The question now is what kind of refrigerant do you need? Just like in the example I used above with the Honda Accord there are hundreds of different types of refrigerants on the market today. Now, I can give you some basic knowledge and form a hypothesis as to what refrigerant your unit is using but I can not know for sure. It is always best to be absolutely certain as to what kind of refrigerant you need. Most of the time you can find this information when looking over your air conditioning unit. If it’s a car then you can most likely find the information under the hood or in the instruction manual. If it is an outside traditional split system then there should be a sticker on your outside unit that displays a whole host of information about the product. Somewhere on this sticker you will see the refrigerant that is used.
Below is a short listing of what the most likely refrigerant that your unit is using:
- Automotive Application – Nowadays nearly every vehicle is using R-134a refrigerant for their vehicles. In recent years a new refrigerant known as HFO-1234yf is being used on newer models. If you car is a few years old you will need to check if it takes 1234yf or not. Otherwise you are fairly safe to assume that your car is taking R-134a.
- Home or Commercial Air Conditioner – These ones can be a little tricky. Depending on when you got your unit you most likely either have an R-22 unit or a R-410A unit. As I said before R-22 was phased out in 2010 for new units. R-410A has been around since 2010 but it’s popularity didn’t really take off until the 2010 deadline hit for R-22.
- Window Air Conditioners – Over the past few weeks I have done numerous articles and reserach on window air conditioners and throughout this research the most common refrigerant that I found used was R-410A.
- Refrigerators and Freezers (Home and Commercial) – The go to refrigerant for these applications has been R-404A. There are some other alternatives out there such as CO2 (R-744), R-502, and some other new HFO refrigerants coming out soon.
How Much Are You Buying?
This is the question and it is a big one. Just like with anything in this world the more you buy the cheaper you can get it. It is no different with refrigerant. Another point to mention here is that refrigerant is by all measures a commodity. The price changes wildly back and forth over the seasons. What that means is that there is room for negotiation on price, especially if you are purchasing larger quantities. Let’s take a look at the refrigerant buying levels and what can be done witch each:
- Little – If you are a do-it-yourselfer looking to get your hands on five or ten pounds of refrigerant then you are going to have a hard time. I fear that once the new refrigerant restriction rules go into effect in 2018 that these cylinders will vanish from online retailers. This is the sales restriction’s purpose though. They want to avoid novices or do-it-yourselfers working with AC machines. The chance of them accidentally venting or causing a leak of refrigerant in their system is very high since they are not experienced. There is an exception in the EPA’s restriction that allows small cans of refrigerants that are less then two pounds to be sold without a certification. The problem here is that these cans usually only come for automotive applications. If you are looking to purchase refrigerant for your home unit you may be out of luck unless you are 608/609 certified.
- If you are certified and just need a few pounds of refrigerant the best way would to contact either your local HVAC company or a HVAC parts distributor like Johnstone Supply. If they are willing they would be able to sell to you after you provide your certification. Now there may still be refrigerant cylinders available for online purchase but if they are then the seller will be asking for your certification number before the product has shipped. If they do not ask for this in 2018 then they are breaking the law.
- Medium – In my mind I picture the medium guys as business owners who either run a small HVAC repair company or they have a small automotive shop. These guys may need a few cylinders at a time but definitely cannot handle a forty cylinder pallet. These customers are 608/609 certified but just don’t have enough demand to require buying in larger quantities. Most of the time they are buying from HVAC wholesalers such as Johnstone Supply. While most distributors only sell in pallet quantities there are a few out there that will work with you and sell five cylinders at a time. There isn’t much room for negotiation here on pricing but it never hurts to try. Another point on this buying group is that you as the purchaser may be required to pay freight to ship the refrigerant. When you get to be purchasing a pallet at a time freight is usually pre-paid.
- Large – Alright so now we’re getting onto the bigger guys. These are larger HVAC companies or shops/automotive dealerships. These guys can comfortably buy a pallet or two pallets at a time. (Remember a pallet is forty cylinders of refrigerant.) Like before these guys are EPA certified. The difference here is that they may have a corporate buyer buying for them rather than the actual technician or business owner who is certified. This buyer will need to provide the 608/609 number of one of the technicians that work for the company. There are a few things to note when buying a pallet or even multiple pallets of refrigerant:
- It is typically standard practice to have the vendor pre-pay the freight when purchasing a pallet of refrigerant. If your distributor wants you to pay freight then I would fight it and push it back to them to pay. However, if they insist that you pay freight it honestly won’t be so bad as you are paying for an LTL shipment of one pallet. The only catch here is that it is a hazardous material so there will be an up-charge for the delivery. If I was to guess I’d rate it at about one-hundred and fifty dollars to two-hundred and fifty dollars for an LTL shipment.
- The second point when buying in pallets is that the door is opened for negotiations on price. When I would have a two to three pallet order that I needed to place I would call around to three to four, sometimes five to six, refrigerant distributors. This would give me an average price point and then I would begin negotiating pricing down by pitting the distributors against each other. When I was satisfied with my price I would issue my purchase order and call it good. Now, you don’t want to do this back and forth all the time and you don’t want your supplier to hit bottom either. Remember, that the distributors need to make a profit as well and that you are not just buying from them but you are also establishing a relationship. If you have a habit of driving the price down to the bottom then it may come to the point where they don’t even want to deal with you.
- Trailerloads – Now we’re on to the big boys. These are your chains of automotive dealerships or very large HVAC repair business in a larger city or in a network of cities. A trailer load of refrigerant is set at twenty pallets times forty cylinders a pallet or eight-hundred cylinders of refrigerant. Like before these buyers are certified with the EPA either through 608 and 609 and a corporate buyer is most likely co-coordinating the purchase and distribution of the trailer-load. This buyer will need to provide the 608/609 number of one of the technicians that work for the company. There are a few things to note when buying a trailerload of refrigerant:
- Freight should be pre-paid by the vendor. There should be no question in this. If you are spending that much money with them they should be more then willing to pay for the freight.
- Freight leads me right into my next point. When buying a trailerload you should be able to negotiate multiple drops of your trailer with your vendor. What that means is if you have a dealership in Kansas City and one in Saint Louis that the trailerload will drop ten pallets in Saint Louis, go across I-70, and then drop the remaining ten pallets in Kansas City. This should come at no extra charge to you as again you are paying for a full trailerload of refrigerant. Depending on the carrier and the vendor you are working with you should be able to squeeze our two drops maybe even three drops as long as the cities are close to each other.
- The door is wide open to negotiate on price when dealing with twenty pallets. Distributors love a trailerload shipment because it’s easy. If done right they can purchase it directly from their manufacturer and have the manufacturer dropship the product without the distributor even touching the goods. The only thing they’d have to do is co-ordinate the shipment and the delivery. Because this is easy for them and they are getting a large sale you have plenty of room to negotiate that price down.
- The last point I’ll make on trailerload purchasing is that there is the possibility to contact the refrigerant manufacturers directly instead of going through a distributor. Remember how I said that the distributor wouldn’t have to touch the trailerload? Well, the manufacturer is the one doing the work now. Wouldn’t it make sense to cut out the middle man and go right for the manufacturers? This will save you quite a bit of money and will allow you to build a relationship with the manufacturer for your next large purchase.
When To Buy
I mentioned this earlier but refrigerants are a commodity. What I mean by that is that their prices can change at the drop of a hat. I like to use the analogy of the price of oil. We always hear about the price of oil going up and down per barrel. One day it’s this and the next day it’s that. It’s just a fact of life. Refrigerant is very similar to this except we just don’t hear about it in the news.
Predictably, refrigerant’s highest price for the year is in the dead of summer. That goes for the homeowners and the business owners. If you are an HVAC company in July and you find yourself out of refrigerant you are going to be paying a pretty penny to get some more. At that point the price almost doesn’t matter. Without it you can’t do your jobs and your techs sit. On the reverse side the bottom price for refrigerant is winter. It’s that whole supply and demand thing again. No one is buying much in winter so the price tends to drop and drop until the Spring comes.
Typically the price will peak towards the end of July or in August. There have been a few times where I have seen September carry a high price but it usually comes down when October comes around. Instead of experiencing a typical crash the price will slowly creep down with each week that passes by until we hit December and January where the price is the lowest it’s going to get.
This December and January time is the absolute best time to buy if you are worried about price. There has been enough time for the previous summer’s inflated price to die off and the new demand for the next year hasn’t begun to hit yet. If you wait until February you are going to begin to see prices start to rise. The reason that is a lot of these bigger companies who can handle trailer loads begin buying multiple trailers in preparation for the upcoming Spring and Summer season. It’s usually about mid-February when these big orders start coming in. The trailers usually hit the buyer’s docks a couple weeks from there and then they are ready and rearing to go for March all the way until the end of the year.
The last thing I’ll mention in this section is that if you are one those early buyers is that you need to watch the market when summer comes. I remember one year where I had bought at sixty dollars a cylinder for R-134a in the winter. Then, that summer the price kept climbing and climbing until it broke two-hundred dollars a cylinder. Here’s the problem though. Our guys were still selling cylinders at eighty or ninety dollars a cylinder. We sold out in no time and only found out later that we were priced WAYbelow market. We left a whole bunch of money on the table. Don’t let that happen to you. If you see the market climbing don’t be afraid to raise your prices as well to keep in line with the competition.
Where To Buy From?
First things first before we get onto the different distributors I want to point out that all these companies are just that, distributors. They are not manufacturing this product. Refrigerant primarily comes from one of four places: Honeywell, Chemours, Mexichem, and Arkema. The only thing you have to look out for when dealing with distributors is making sure that you are not getting imported Chinese product. A lot of the times the Chinese product is bad quality, not mixed correctly, or is not even the right refrigerant that you ordered. A safe practice when dealing with a distributor is asking exactly what manufacturers they carry. That way you know exactly what product you are buying from and I can assure you that if it is from one of those four names that I mentioned above that you are getting quality product.
Without further ado we refer you to our listing of refrigerant distributors.
Yes, of course Chinese product is available… but it is tough to know exactly what product you are getting if you decide to import product yourself. Manufacturing refrigerant is complex and some imported refrigerants will not have the exact same chemical formula as locally made product. Now, this could be due to ignorance or the exporting company trying to get their cost as low as possible. Some of these concoctions are harmless but others can result in increased flammability which could lead to injury to you or technicians. Best advice I can give is to do your research and to know exactly what you are getting.
Alright folks well I hope that after reading this article that I have accomplished two things for you. The first is that you now have a better understanding of what Freon is and how it differentiates from other refrigerants. The second point is that I hope that you feel more comfortable about purchasing refrigerant, how to purchase it, and where to go to receive quotes and other information.