Your AC: Why Are Refrigerant Prices Going Up?

Refrigerant prices are going up again, which isn’t good news for your AC unit. 

Fortunately, most newer air conditioning units and heat pumps today should not need a repair involving refrigerant for some time. 

Regular AC Maintenance Prevents Refrigerant Problems & Breakdowns

An air conditioning unit or heat pump when properly installed should last 10-15 years or more. When you have your HVAC unit professionally maintained twice a year, you increase the chances that your AC will break down less often. 

Maintenance to Spot Preventable AC Problems

For this reason, we recommend a heater check in the fall and an AC check in the spring. One of the things we can spot is a pest infestation in your AC system. These are all too common on Texas’ Gulf Coast where the climate is warm most of the year.

New construction in Fort Bend County and Houston’s Far West Side can drive more wildlife to seek shelter. Sometimes that means that squirrels and other critters set up shop in your outdoor condenser or up in your attic. It is common to find critters that have burrowed in the insulation and ductwork or chewed through condensate lines and other electrical wiring.

Maintenance visits also allow us to spot electrical parts that are wearing out, identify slow refrigerant leaks (usually on older equipment), and give homeowners a report card for their AC or heat pump so they know how their HVAC system is doing overall.    

Checking Your Refrigerant Charge

A comprehensive check of your AC or heat pump often involves checking the refrigerant charge. The refrigerant used in an AC or heat pump is used in a closed system.  

In theory, it should never require adding refrigerant. No one should be recommending that an AC or heat pump be “topped off” (i.e. adding more to replace what was lost). Refrigerant is not consumed when your HVAC system is running. If the levels aren’t right, it typically means there is a leak or it was improperly charged with refrigerant to begin with. 

For an AC or heat pump to work properly, refrigerant levels must be in balance. Find out why too much refrigerant can be harmful and common causes for low refrigerant.

How is Refrigerant Used to Cool or Heat Your Home?

Refrigerant is the special ingredient that absorbs heat from your indoor air and transfers it outside. 

Air conditioners concentrate on cooling you down indoors by using refrigerant in a closed system. Central air and heat usually refer to an air conditioner plus an electric or gas heater for the winter.  Refrigerant in this type of equipment configuration is only used in the summer to cool a home.

Heat pumps, on the other hand, have a reversing valve that makes it possible to switch the direction of the refrigerant. Refrigerant transfers heat outside the home in the summer and brings heat inside in the winter. Despite the confusing name, refrigerant used in a heat pump system is used to both cool and heat a home.

Central AC and heat pumps are the two most popular configurations in residential homes on the Texas Gulf coast right now, though heat pumps are becoming more popular.

Refrigerant phaseouts reduce supplies of refrigerant

If your AC or heat pump needs a repair that involved refrigerant, it could be expensive. Here’s why:

Refrigerants are subject to increased regulation to reduce their effects on the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently phasing down the use of certain refrigerants with a high Global Warming Potential (GWP). Some states, such as California, are issuing their own phasedown.

The last phaseout banned the use of new standalone air conditioners and heat pumps using R-22 or Freon, a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC). CFCs are ozone-depleting substances, which are harmful to the ozone layer. 

Phaseouts of specific refrigerants mean that new or virgin refrigerant may no longer be produced. Refrigerant will still be available to service existing equipment because refrigerant can be reclaimed.

The big takeaway for homeowners: refrigerant supplies are falling, which makes them more expensive when you need a repair. 

Why refrigerant prices will continue to stay high

New Low-GWP refrigerants that will replace the refrigerants currently in use in air conditioners and heat pumps today are mildly flammable. You might see them referred to as A2L. 

In order to use these refrigerants safely, building codes, education, and technology will be changing. HVAC technicians will acquire new tools and training to work with the newer refrigerants, manufacturers will likely be adding new safeguards within HVAC equipment, and fire and building codes will adapt to create the conditions and safeguards to minimize hazards.

In combination, these conditions can mean higher overall prices for AC and heat pumps, and new refrigerants. 

Other factors that have played into higher refrigerant prices in the past have included anti-dumping and tariffs lawsuits, extreme weather, and distributors stockpiling refrigerants.

By far the largest influence right now is the federal AIM Act and EPA phasing down refrigerants across numerous industries to meet international agreement standards from the Montreal Protocol and the Kigali Amendment. This international treaty sets a global phasedown of the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to protect the environment and human health. 

Need Advice to Keep Your Home Comfortable?

Count on Terry’s A/C & Heating to keep you informed about new refrigerants and technology that will be rolling out in the coming months and years. HVAC manufacturers are committed to providing options that protect our planet, conserve energy, and keep us comfortable indoors. We can help you navigate the options if you’re exploring a new central air conditioner or a heat pump and help you weigh the pros and cons of whether it’s time to replace an HVAC unit that is nearing the end of its useful life. 

Some HVAC companies suggest homeowners replace equipment early, even if it is not strictly necessary. On the other hand, our small family-owned business is known for educating our customers on what the HVAC options are, so they can choose what fits their lifestyle and preferences. Our goal is for each customer’s satisfaction so we can be a good partner and advisor for the long haul. If you’re living in Fort Bend County or Far West Houston, Texas, give us a call at 281-495-7830 for a repair, quote or regular maintenance on your air conditioner or heat pump today. 

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