Leaky air conditioners and heat pumps can be unhealthy and expensive
Does your heat pump or air-conditioning system frequently need a refrigerant “boost” or a “charge”? If so, you should understand what could be going on before simply adding more refrigerant each time.
An HVAC unit that needs more refrigerant on a regular basis probably is leaking refrigerant. Some HVAC technicians may just replace or top off the refrigerant instead of checking your system for leaks.
The common refrigerant — chlorodifluoromethane, better known as HCFC-22 or R-22 or Freon — has been in a phase-out mode since the early 1990s. Once it’s into the atmosphere, R-22 is known to deplete the earth’s ozone layer, contributing to global warming.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates R-22 under the Clean Air Act. Since 2010, EPA has banned the sale of new air-conditioning units containing the R-22 compound, and has promoted recycling of the gas from old machines so it will not be released. And beginning in 2020, R-22 no longer will be made available to boost existing air conditioners and heat pumps at all, even though the gas within the systems can be recycled. This all has made R-22 refrigerant more and more expensive each passing year.
If your heat pump or air-conditioning system leaks, not only is it releasing unfriendly greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, it’s also causing your system’s operation costs to rise. By hiring an EPA-certified technician to perform your service, you can assure yourself that the technician understands this refrigerant issue. The certification is often called “Section 608 certification” because of the section of the Clean Air Act that addresses R-22 issues. Ask if your technician has the EPA certification and can determine if your system’s leak can be repaired or if the system should be replaced. Also ask when scheduling an appointment what the charge is for the first and each successive pound of R-22 refrigerant. It will pay to shop for a qualified contractor as R-22 prices are expensive and vary widely.
Today’s HVAC systems are more efficient than they were 10 years ago, so your replacement cost would be partially recovered in the savings you achieve by consuming less electricity and requiring fewer service calls and refrigerant boosts.
As R-22 is being phased out, the HVAC industry is introducing systems that operate on alternative refrigerants. For more information, visit epa.gov/ozone