Monday, May 7, 2012

EPA freon policy raising prices, Lubbock A/C companies say

Consumers can reduce their costs by eventually replacing the old unit with a new one or keeping equipment repaired and leaky hoses fixed on older units.

Posted: May 3, 2012 - 5:52pm | Updated: May 4, 2012 - 12:30am
By Adam D. Young

A decades-old Environmental Protection Agency policy aimed at eventually phasing out R-22 freon in hopes of preventing damage to the planet’s ozone layer is making an impact on consumers’ pocketbooks this year.

But Lubbock air-conditioning technicians have tips for consumers to curb the costs as prices rise.
Yearly EPA benchmarks set to phase out all production of Hydrochlorofluorocarbon-22, also known as R-22 freon, in the United States by 2020 have hit supply and availability particularly hard in 2012, and Hub City air-conditioning companies say they’re having to pass the costs along to
consumers — sometimes raising the cost of a refill from $20- to $40-plus per pound.

With cooling systems requiring up to eight pounds and sometimes more, that could mean an extra $160 or more per service just for R-22, said Greg Welch, co-owner of Lellem Welch Plumbing Heating & AC.

“In the past, we had some customers’ units where it was cheaper for them to put a little bit of freon in to top it off, but that’s just not the case anymore,” Welch said.

Both Welch and his father, co-owner Richard Welch, said they and every air-conditioning service they know of have noticed R-22 wholesale prices jump by 200 percent or more.

“We absorb some of that, but we have to pass it along to the consumer,” Greg Welch said. The Welches said they’ve held their price down to twice last year’s cost for R-22.

Greg Skarda, owner of Master Tech Heating & Air Conditioning, estimated his cost for R-22 is up 230 percent over last year.

He blamed the price hike in part on the reduced production set by the EPA and partly on distributors selling 30-gallon barrels of R-22 in lesser quantities than in the past.

Skarda said distributors, once able to offer discounts by selling 30-gallon drums in pallets of 20 or more, now sell the drums two or four at a time.

Increased R-22 prices along with higher costs for commodities used in repairs, such as copper and silver in solder, also affect the price of air-conditioning repairs, Skarda said.

Since shortly after scientists in the 1980s discovered the Hydrochlorofluorocarbons of R-22 likely damage the planet’s ozone layer, the EPA has recommended substitutes such as R-410A, a blend of hydrofluorocarbons that does not contribute to depletion of the ozone layer, but, like R-22, potentially contribute to global warming as a greenhouse gas, according to the EPA.

Since 2005, R-22 consumption in the United States has fallen by more than half, from 107,258 metric tons in 2005 to 42,974 in 2010, according to a statement from EPA spokeswoman Catherine C. Milbourn.

Data for 2011 was not available.

Both the Welches and Skarda said they have not noticed a difference in effectiveness between R-22 and 410-A, but both said the price of the replacement has become considerably cheaper.

“The 410 used to be more expensive, but its price hasn’t increased where R-22 has,” Skarda said.
The Welches said consumers can reduce their long-term costs for air conditioning by selecting a cooling unit using a compound like 410-A, which costs about $25 per pound.

Since 2010, the EPA has banned the use of R-22 in new residential cooling units, though some new units still are available without the R-22 coolant in them at purchase.

The consumer is forced to pay the difference.

Along with eventually replacing a cooling unit, the EPA and service providers recommend consumers still operating older units using R-22 have leaky hoses fixed and equipment repaired, rather than topping off their tanks.

Both Richard Welch and Skarda recommended homeowners keep their units' compressors clean and change air filters once per month to improve efficiency and increase the cooling system’s lifespan.

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Source: Amount of HCFC-22 consumption in the U.S. as reported to the United Nations between 2005-2010 provided by the EPA.

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