Brookside resident Caitlin Morlok had enough of her 25-year-old air conditioner. After living in her home for five years, she and her husband decided to have it replaced this week.
“It’s a lot of money, but we were figuring that we would have to do it before our old one just died,” she said.
It’s a good thing Morlok replaced her system when she did. Most air conditioners older than 10 years, like Morlok’s, use Freon, a refrigerant also known as R-22. And the cost to fix them is climbing.
The compound depletes the ozone, and the EPA has mandated that its use be completely phased out by the year 2020.
At the start of the year, a 25-pound jug of Freon cost $500, said Andrew Van Wyk, HVAC service manager for Bob Hamilton. Now, it’s $900 — an 80 percent climb.
Some repair companies have raised their prices by up to 50 percent this year to cover the refrigerant’s rising cost.
Freon is a chlorofluorocarbon, and when it gets into the stratosphere, the sun’s ultraviolet rays break the compound down into free chlorine atoms. These atoms destroy ozone molecules.
“I’m a big fan of R-22, but I don’t like what it does it does to the environment,” said Alex Gordy, the owner of Alpine Refrigeration.
Gordy said some air conditioners, such as small window units, can be retrofitted to accommodate environmentally-safe refrigerants.
But if an air conditioner is leaking, often the best and most cost-effective solution is to replace it entirely, said Kenny Craig, a manager at Midwest Heating Cooling and Plumbing. Instead of R-22, most modern air conditioners now use the refrigerant R-410A, which is environmentally safe.
Car air conditioners use a different refrigerant and aren’t affected by the phase-out.
Refilling an air conditioner with the outdated refrigerant is only a temporary fix.
“If they need a refill, there’s a leak. That leak’s not going to go away just by filling it up,” Craig said. “How much do you want to invest in an old system?”
An air conditioner usually lasts about 12 to 18 years, Craig said. The cost of replacing an air conditioner starts at between $4,000 and $5,000.
To maximize an air conditioner’s efficiency, the filters and coils should be kept clean, Van Wyk said. Gordy said residents should also make sure they aren’t setting the temperature too low. Constantly blasting the air at 68 degrees, for example, could damage the compressor.
But even with regular maintenance, repairs are eventually necessary. As 2020 inches closer, the cost might not be worth it.
“You’re looking at thousands and thousands for repair, and it’s often more feasible to replace it,” Gordy said. “It’s a lot more beneficial, especially with the phase-out.”