We are asked this all the time. “How much does R22 cost?” Yes, R-22 is more expensive but, it is not as expensive as many HVAC companies claim it to be. As of October 2017, we charge $45 per pound for R-22, plus our current service call fee of $75.00. Do not trust any HVAC contractor that tells you, you must replace your HVAC system because R22 freon is too expensive or no longer made. They are lying to you, in order to force a sale.
How Much Does R-22 Refrigerant Cost?
We get this situation all too often, with homeowners calling us asking, “How much does R22 refrigerant cost? I just need a few pounds! I just received a $450 quote to top off my AC unit with R22 refrigerant from HVAC Mega Company X. What gives?”
Yes, R-22 refrigerant is more expensive but, it is not as expensive as many companies claim it to be. Before we can get to the answer, though, it is helpful to know a little history.
The History Of Refrigerants
In the 1920’s, refrigeration and air conditioning were in its infancy, and the refrigerant of choice was a toxic gas known as ammonia. The ultimate goal, however, was to replace ammonia, due to its toxicity. Although initially invented in the 1890’s, chlorofluorocarbons or CFC’s did not stir much interest until the 1920’s when refrigeration became popular. The motivation behind their development was to find a suitable replacement for ammonia. It is one thing to create a small amount of gas in a laboratory; it is another to synthesize the gas on a large scale.
These new CFC chemicals found uses for three main things; as propellants, as refrigerants, and as fire extinguishers. “What is a propellant”, you ask? Well, it is a chemical used to propel a product out of a spray can, such as hair spray or paint. However, it is the air conditioning portion that we are really concerned with here but, the propellant issue was a significant factor behind the global ban later on.
It was in the 1930’s that commercial refrigeration and commercial air conditioning (large public buildings like malls and movie theaters), really took off, with the refrigerant known as R-12, a CFC. Adding to the mix, and becoming more important later on, a closely related class of chemicals called HCFC’s (hydrochlorofluorocarbon’s) came to market in the mid-1930’s.
Refrigeration For The Masses
It was not until after World War II, that air conditioning for the general masses at home, really started to become commonplace. By the 1950’s, home window air conditioners were a starting to be a thing for middle-class America, due to advancing compressor technology and the use of an HCFC refrigerant R-22 (also known as HCFC-22, Freon 22, coolant 22, or just Freon, for short).
By the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, we start to see central heating and air conditioning systems in everyday American homes, becoming commonplace. The modern climate-controlled American home that we think of today; this is the period where it was born.
However, once we reached the 1970’s, global production of CFC’s and HCFC’s were at an all-time high but their universal acclaim as wonder chemicals, were soon coming to an end. By the late 1970’s, a dramatic effect was being both observed and understood on a scientific level; the depletion of the Earths ozone layer.
The Ozone Layer
When CFC’s or HCFC’s react with the upper atmosphere, the suns ultraviolet rays are strong enough to break off the chlorine atom from the molecule, giving you the following chemical equations.
“Cl + O3 (ozone) → CLO + O2”
You then have a vicious cycle where that one Cl molecule can round robin in the atmosphere for up to two years, destroying ozone.
“ClO + O3 → Cl + 2O2”
We are now back to where we started with a lone chlorine molecule, which starts that process all over again.
“Okay, Anthony, thanks for the history lesson on modern refrigeration and air conditioning! However, what does this have to do with my outrageous R-22 repair bill?”
Don’t worry; this is where we start to see everything come together.
The CFC Ban Begins
For anyone that lived through the 1970’s and the 1980’s in the United States, you probably remember the hype over the hole in the Ozone layer. One of the first actions taken by the US Government was banning the use of CFC’s in all spray cans. Shortly after that, it was agreed to cap CFC production output at 1986 levels, via an international treaty. However, that still left us with HCFC’s being unregulated, and although they aren’t as harmful to the ozone layer, they are still ozone-depleting chemicals.
It is the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty, that is now affecting the price of R-22 HCFC. Simply put, it is a global agreement that sets a schedule to restrict the production of R-22, resulting in a complete ban on production by 2030 (but 99.5% of it being banned by 2020). The replacement refrigerant for residential and light commercial air conditioning is R-410a. It is also known, somewhat, by its brand name Puron.
The Economic Effect
From here, it is fundamental economics. Because, when you artificially restrict the supply of a commodity, but the demand remains the same or even increases, the price for that commodity will increase.
The sad part about all of this is that shady HVAC companies are using this event to take advantage of homeowners, by charging up to $150 per pound to recharge their existing systems. They are taking advantage of this crisis and exaggerating it further, for no other reason than to line their pockets. The goal for HVAC companies here is to make the repair cost for a homeowners existing air conditioning equipment so high, that it encourages the sale of a new system. This lie, in turn, pushes homeowners to replace proper HVAC equipment before it is necessary and we, at 33 Solutions LLC, won’t make you do that.
The 33 Solutions LLC Way
As of October 10, 2017, we charge $45 per pound, so it isn’t as bad as many other companies claim. If any HVAC company gives you a crazy price on R-22 refrigerant, they are trying to pull a fast one on you. Furthermore, we also strive to be clear and straightforward with what we sell. If we replace a part, we will show you the old and the new part, guaranteeing that you are getting what you pay for. This honesty is also the case when it comes to selling refrigerant by the pound. You are more than welcome to watch the scale as we charge your system, guaranteeing that you are getting 2.4 pounds when we charge you for 2.4 pounds.
The bottom line is this. With our help at 33 Solutions LLC, we can help you find the solution that is the most economically advantageous to you. Chances are, if your R22 air conditioner is 12 or fewer years old, we can probably help you keep it going for a few years to come, without spending outrageous amounts of money on repair bills. We can help you with an honest and truthful path forward.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me, Anthony, at 33 Solutions LLC!
Freon is just a trade name that caught on as a general term for all chemicals in that category. Similar to how someone would call all soda Coke or all copy machines Xerox machines. Freon is just the brand name that DuPont took R-12 to market with during the 1920’s and 1930’s, and it just stuck for all refrigerants from that point forward.
R-410a will be around for a while, but there will be a push in a few years to move to the next advancement in HVAC technology. Although R-410a does not deplete the ozone layer, it does contribute to global warming. However, the urgency to replace R-410a isn’t there yet, so I see at least 10 to 20 more years of R-410a in the residential and light commercial market. If you are curious though, the replacements in the pipeline are carbon-dioxide (R-744) and difluoromethane (R-32), with R-32 being the more mature technology that is ready to go today. The desire to move to R-32 will not only be in the reduction of gases that contribute to global warming, but also the need to design HVAC systems that are more energy efficient as well.
The Montreal Protocol
January 1, 2010 – Requires the United States to reduce consumption of HCFC’s by 75% below the United States baseline, and only for use in existing equipment. Manufacturers cannot sell new air conditioning or heat pump equipment that uses HCFCs.
January 1, 2015 – Requires the United States to reduce consumption of HCFC’s by 90% below the United States baseline.
January 1, 2020 – Requires the United States to reduce its consumption of HCFC’s by 99.5% below the United States baseline. Any refrigerant that has been recycled will be allowed beyond 2020 to service existing systems, but manufacturers will no longer be able to produce R-22 to service existing air conditioners and heat pumps. Therefore, beyond 2020, there will be zero new R-22 available to service existing air conditioners and heat pumps – everything used to service existing equipment must be from recycling R-22 already in existence.