Greetings ladies and gentlemen. It is that time of year again. It’s just a few days before Thanksgiving and here I am sitting in my office having a nice cup of coffee and taking shelter from those thirty degree temperatures outside. As I sip my coffee I have begun to think about the various types refrigerants and what we can expect from each one in 2020. Yes, I’ve always got refrigerant on the mind and today is no different. You see, that is what we do here at Refrigerant HQ. Even during these cold winter months we are planning for the next season. In fact, it’s actually easier to get a lot of writing and preparation done in the winter as the demand is gone and it gives us a little bit of time to rest and gather our thoughts.
While most of our articles are more of a technical nature designed for HVAC technicians, this article is orientated towards homeowners. Over the past four years Refrigerant HQ has published a series of articles right around this time. Each of these articles goes into exactly how much you can expect to pay per pound on a specific refrigerant. Unfortunately, a refrigerant recharge is one of the most overcharged services out there. It is this way due to one simple fact: Homeowners have no idea what a refrigerant’s price per pound is. It is an unknown concept with no real point of reference.
This is where we come in folks. In this article, and the other articles I published today, we will be diving deep into exactly how much each refrigerant is per pound. So, say your air conditioner needs a repair and a refrigerant recharge. Once you know how many pounds you require you can do the math based on the numbers in this article. However, before I get further into this article I do want to give you a warning that I can be rather long winded at times. While this is all good information about your air conditioner and how it works…
Tips Before You Purchase
Now before I get into the price per pound information you should first understand the R-22 market and your R-22 air conditioner a bit more. The first point of note is do you have an R-22 system? The only way you can be exactly sure is by looking at the outside section of your air conditioner. There should be a white sticker located somewhere on the machine. This sticker will indicate exactly what kind of refrigerant your split-system is taking. If you are in the United States then the chances are that it will be one of two refrigerants. If the unit was manufactured and installed before 2010 then the chances are high that it takes R-22. However, if the system was manufactured after 2010 then it most likely takes the HFC R-410A. Again, it is always best to check for the sticker to identify exactly what kind of refrigerant you are dealing with.
You may have noticed from my section above that the year 2010 is significant when it comes to R-22. Well folks, that is because there was a mandatory phase-down implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency that started in 2010. You see, as of January 1st, 2010 no new R-22 machines could be manufactured or imported into the new United States. (This excludes ‘dry systems’ which could be manufactured as long as they didn’t contain R-22.) At the time of this phase-down nearly every home and office air conditioner in the country was using the HCFC R-22. Yes, there were some exceptions here and there… but for the most part the country ran on R-22.
The phase-down was put in place due to the damage that R-22 caused to the Ozone layer. R-22 contained the chemical known as chlorine and when R-22 was leaked or vented into the atmosphere that chlorine made it’s way up to the Stratosphere and eventually into the Ozone. The chlorine would then eat away at the Ozone layer causing damage and the eventual formation of a hole above the arctic. As most of you know, back in the 1980’s a treaty was signed by over one-hundred countries known as the Montreal Protocol. This treaty aimed at phasing out Ozone damaging substances around the globe. The first to go was the refrigerant known as R-12. There were other phase-outs over the years but the last one, which started in 2010, is R-22.
The phase-down from the EPA was a staggered approach. There was a production and import limit installed in 2010 and then there was another one in 2015. The last one, which is coming up here in just a few weeks is January 1st, 2020. When that date hits R-22 will no longer be able to be produced or imported within the United States. The only way to get your hands on R-22 refrigerant from then on is either through stockpiles of refrigerant that distributors bought up on before the phase-out, by using reclaimed R-22, or by using an R-22 alternative product.
R-22 Pricing Variables
Starting in 2010, when the phase-down began, the pricing of R-22 has been anything but consistent. In some cases it can change wildly from month to month. There are a number of reasons for this but there are a few main drivers that cause the price to go haywire. The first is the basic concept of supply and demand. The more supply out there then the less the price will be. The more demand the higher the price. The other reason is speculation. This is a common term when people discuss the price of oil. Speculators drive the price up or drive the price down. These speculators are folks trying to make a profit based on the rising and falling tide of oil prices.
For those not in the industry I like to compare refrigerant pricing to that of oil. You always hear of oil prices changing day to day. You always hear of speculators and supply/demand issues. Refrigerant is the same way. Since the phase-down started in 2010 we have seen R-22 prices go from a high of twenty-five dollars a pound all the way to nine dollars a pound. That twenty-five dollars per pound was the highest price point that I have seen and that occurred in the summer of 2017. The reason this got so high is that everyone was buying as much R-22 as they could in preparation for the upcoming 2020 phase-out. Because everyone had the same idea of buying up early the price continued to rise and rise.
A lot of folks thought that the price would stabilize at that twenty-five dollar mark. Others thought it would go even higher. Many companies bought up thousands or millions of dollars worth of R-22 in anticipation of an even higher price. Well folks, the inverse happened. After the summer season in 2017 the price on R-22 started to drop. And drop it did. Over the past few years R-22 has been the lowest it’s been in years. Throughout the summer of 2019 R-22 was pricing around ten dollars a pound. In some cases, like right now, it’s around nine dollars a pound.
No one knows for sure what will happen to the pricing when January 1st, 2020 arrives but a lot of the articles I have read predict more of the same. That same price of around nine or ten dollars a pound. This is due to the overwhelming amount of stock-piles out there still.
Age of your R-22 Unit
Before you consider repairing your R-22 system you should ask yourself a few questions. The first is exactly how old is your air conditioner? Is it over fifteen years? If so, then it may be time to look at purchasing an entirely new system that uses the newer refrigerant known as HFC R-410A. I say this for a couple of reasons. The first is that most air conditioners last between fifteen to twenty years. Once you hit that fifteen year mark you are also going to start running into repairs. It could be that your compressor goes out, a capacitor is blown, or a whole host of other reasons.
Whatever happened, your air conditioner isn’t cooling and you need a repair. If the price on R-22 is on a higher upswing then you could risk paying a substantial amount just to repair your unit. Remember, that you have to pay for the repair AND the refrigerant as well. So, say your compressor needs replaced. That could be a two to three-hundred dollar repair. Factor in the refrigerant recharge of about twelve pounds of refrigerant at twenty dollars a pound then you’re looking at a repair bill of around five-hundred and forty dollars.
The question that you will have to answer is are you ok with paying that repair bill? Remember, that your unit is older and with each passing season you are going to have more and more repairs come up. The alternative is spending three-thousand or so and get a brand new 410A air conditioner. While this is a big expense upfront it does prevent you from having a future headache of yearly repair bills.
R-22 Alternatives & Reclaim
Continuing on with the above section if you find that the cost to purchase and install a whole new system at your home or office is too expensive then there are some other options available. If the price of R-22 is high during next year’s summer and you’re looking at possible twenty or twenty-five dollars a pound then there are some alternative choices. The first is what’s known as reclaimed refrigerant. Reclaimed refrigerant is R-22 refrigerant that was used in another machine at one point in time. The used refrigerant is extracted from that machine, put in a recovery cylinder, and then sent to an EPA certified reclaimer. The reclaimer removes any impurities or containment from the used refrigerant. When they are complete the refrigerant is clean and able to be used again.
Many technicians frown on the use of reclaimed refrigerants. I’m not exactly sure why this is as these reclaimers have to go through a rigorous inspection process by the EPA. These guys know what they are doing. The only reason I can see for the skepticism is similar to when you take your car to the dealership. The dealership will ask you if you want new or remanufactured parts. Most folks buy new as they’re not comfortable with a remanufactured. I’ve never had a problem with buying reman/reclaim but that decision will have to be up to you. There is savings involved so that could perhaps be your deciding factor.
Along with reclaimed refrigerants there are a number of alternative refrigerants to R-22. At this time I believe there are over one-hundred different alternatives out there from all different companies and manufacturers. Each alternative is different as well. Some of these products may require very little retro-fit to get the alternative refrigerant to work in your R-22 based system. Others will require a complete overhaul on your machine to get it to work with an R-22 alternative.
Alternative refrigerants are cheaper… as long as R-22 is at or above eleven dollars per pound. If it is lower then that, like it is today, then alternatives won’t do you much good. After all, why pay for an alternative product if you can get the real thing at the same price… or even at a cheaper price? However, if you see R-22 prices going up and up again then alternatives are a great choice for those of you who don’t want to purchase a whole new system.
You Are Paying For Expertise
Ok folks, so the information that I am going to give you in our ‘Price Per Pound’ section is very nearly, if not exactly, the cost that your contractor is paying for their R-22 refrigerant. What that means is that you can expect a markup. After all, the technician and the HVAC contractor need to make money as well. This is a specialized trade and requires trained expertise in order to succeed in. Thinking that you can do this yourself is never a good idea as there are a lot of intricacies that need to be accounted for. As an example, let’s go through and ask a few simple questions that a technician would either have to do or consider:
All of these questions and more are what you are paying your contractor for. Remember that they need to make money too, but there is also a fine line between having profit and gouging. Reading this article, and reviewing the price per pound, will allow you to be educated and give you the power to negotiate the price of refrigerant.
Your AC Unit is a Closed System
Even before you have a contractor come to your home and look at your air conditioner you should be aware that air conditioners are what’s known as closed systems. What that means is that the refrigerant in your air conditioner moves back and forth between different cycles and it, in theory, never runs out or needs refrigerant refilled.
If you find that your unit is low on refrigerant or is completely out do NOT just refill your machine with a new refrigerant. I repeat do NOT do this. Your system does not need a top off. It does not need just a little bit more refrigerant to get by. No. If you are running out of refrigerant that means that somewhere in the refrigerant cycle there is a leak. Your unit is leaking refrigerant and will continue to leak refrigerant until a repair is made. If you dump more refrigerant into it without fixing the leak you are literally throwing money down the drain. Potentially a lot of money too if yours is an R-22 unit.
I like to think of it as a above ground pool. If you get a puncture in the pool lining water will leak out. Sure you can always add more water but it’s not fixing the problem. Adding more refrigerant doesn’t fix the problem either. It’s just prolong the inevitable and wasting money.
R-22 Price Per Pound
Alright folks so we’ve gotten through the precursor of this article. Now we can begin to look at the meat and potatoes. This is the reason you came to this article. Let’s say that for whatever reason your air conditioner is no longer working and your house is getting warmer. You call out a technician for a repair quote. Now in most cases when something goes wrong with your air conditioner the refrigerant will most likely leak out. Say for example one of the lines get a crack in the pipe. The refrigerant is going to leak through that pipe so not only do you have to replace the copper tubing but you also have to recharge your system with refrigerant. This is where it can get expensive. Just how much should you be paying for R-22 per pound?
Now, I could tell you the price today, which I will in a bit, but I will also give you kind of a cheat sheet that I like to use when gauging the R-22 market price. It’s so simple. All I do is just go to Ebay.com and search for R-22 cylinders. By doing this I can see what the going rate is per pound of R-22. As I write this article today I can see that R-22 is priced between three-hundred and seventy-five and four-hundred dollars a cylinder. Now, let’s do some simple math to get your price per pound. Let’s take the higher amount of four-hundred just to be safe.
$400 / 30lbs = $13.33 per pound.
There you have it folks, $13.33 for one pound of R-22 refrigerant. Now, please keep in mind that as I said above these prices can change at any given time.
Ok, so now that we have the cost per pound of R-22 now let’s determine how many pounds that you need to recharge your air conditioner. Now the typical rule of thumb is between two to four pounds of refrigerant per ton of your air conditioner. You should always check the exact specifications of your machine, but most of the time the two to four pound guideline will be sufficient. Most home air conditioners are between one ton and five tons. Anything over five tons is considered a commercial grade unit. So, let’s get on with our math problem. Let’s pretend that you have a middle of the road three ton air conditioning unit that is on the fritz with no refrigerant in it. In order to refill your unit entirely you will need the following:
4 pounds of refrigerant * 3 ton unit = 12 pounds of refrigerant needed.
12 pounds of refrigerant times the $13.33 per pound number we came up with earlier = $159.96 for a completely fill up of your unit.
Alright folks, that should about cover it. I’ve gone through everything you should know when refilling your air conditioner as well at what price point to expect. One last thing I wanted to mention before closing this article is that you have to remember that there will be mark-up involved from your technician or HVAC company. The price that I gave you is going to be very close to their cost. So, while you may not get that $13.33 price per pound article it does give you a starting point for negotiations. Remember, that everything in this world is negotiable and if they quote you forty-five dollars a pound then you do your best to get them down to twenty-five dollars a pound using this article as a point of reference.