Since the ground-hog predicts an early spring, I thought it would be a good time to talk about refrigerant.
As you know, manufacturers could no longer produce air conditioners with R-22 as of 2010. There is also a scheduled phase-out of R-22 with a 90% reduction in the manufacture of virgin R-22 in 2015 and virgin R-22 can no longer be produced as of 2020 . It will only be available as recycled refrigerant.
However, a lot of manufacturers are producing what are called dry charged R-22 units. Basically, they are R-22 units without any R-22 charge in them. Contractors like them because they use them for “change-outs” of existing R-22 units. What they don’t consider is the fact that the existing indoor coils may only be an 8 to 12 SEER coil. These units are all 13 SEER to meet the minimum efficiency standards set by the D.O.E.. But they figure it is an easy sale and just replace the outdoor unit and leave the existing coil. They really are not providing their customer what they are paying for.
But now, there is a new twist to this scenario — the actual cost of the refrigerant needed to charge the dry charge unit which could be any where from 5 to 10 pound depending on the size of the unit and the length of the line set.
The last time I checked, the wholesale price refrigerants has changed dramatically. Right now, R-22 = $450.00 for a 30# drum = $15.00 / lb. while R-410a has actually gone down in price — R-410a = $75.00 for a 25 # drum = $3.00/ lb.
Now, these are wholesale prices, so, what does the contractor charge his customer for the refrigerant – double, triple? By the time he adds the refrigerant, he could have provided a new R-410a indoor coil and put in a complete R-410a system.
The other thing to keep in mind about the cost of refrigerant used in older air conditioning systems, based on the fact that the cost has again sky rocketed, is the fact that it will eventually go even higher, and finally phased out. This means it could hundreds of dollars to add refrigerant to a leaking system. In comparison, R-410a used in newer systems is about 5 times cheaper than refrigerant used in systems installed in the past.
So, are you doing your customer a favor by just replacing the outdoor unit with a dry charge R-22 unit? Are you doing your customer a favor adding refrigerant to a system that will become near obsolete, refrigerant wise, in just 2 more years with the 90% reduction in production and completely obsolete in just 7 more years when there is no longer virgin R-22 available and the price is who knows where? To my way of thinking, this is not even penny wise and dollar foolish, this is just dollar foolish putting good money into something that will only cost more and more down the road.