Broken A/C? Replacing may be cheaper in long run

HOUSTON - If you think the high temps are hard to live with, try doing it with a broken air-conditioner. It makes sense that getting your A/C repaired would be a huge money saver compared to replacing it, but surprisingly that's not always the case.

Angie Hicks, from the website Angie's List, told Local 2, a shortage of refrigerant could force homeowners to bite the bullet and buy a whole new system.

"The regulations have changed when it comes to air conditioners. The older models use R-22, which is often called Freon, that is not going to be available in a few years," said Hicks, who created the service referral website.

In 1987, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the phasing out of the ozone-depleting refrigerant as part of the Montreal Protocol. The act calls for 90 percent of Freon to be phased out by 2015 and to be virtually obsolete by 2020. This shortage could leave some homeowners with units built before 2010 sweating because air conditioners manufactured during that time use Freon. The new EPA approved coolant, known as R-410A, does not work with the R-22 equipment.

A/C contractor Larry Howald told Local 2 THAT people often treat the common leaks in their air conditioner by using more Freon rather than paying for costly repairs. Now those who can get their hands on Freon are paying a lot more for it now.

"Well, back in the day, that might have run them a couple of hundred dollars and with today's prices of R-22, it may be $500 to $600," Howald said.

Those leaks, which are a common problem and impossible to prevent, can cause a loss of a pound or two of the eight pounds of coolant typically needed to keep the machine pumping chilled air throughout your home. Hicks said since heating-cooling costs represent 50 percent of an energy bill, a new unit may be a good investment.

"If your air conditioner is getting a little on the old side, maybe it's seven, eight, nine years old, and you've got a repair, you want to make sure repairing it is the best move," Hicks said.

For homeowners who don't want to invest in an entirely new system but also don't want to keep investing in repairs, some manufacturers have circumvented the EPA guidelines, which called for an end to production of AC units "charged" or "filled" with R-22, by producing units that use the old coolant but don't come charged with it. These are often called "dry" units. Though these units generally cost less than a whole new system, consumers will still have to fill them with the old refrigerant, which is only likely to only get more expensive in the years to come.

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