Take the 2-minute tour ×
Home Improvement Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for contractors and serious DIYers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I recently have been having issues with my A/C unit on my Condo which was built in 1986. This unit might very well be the original A/C unit. It has two components, the fan outside and the air handler in the attic. I had the A/C maintenanced last summer and was told it was leaking Freon. They filled it up to spec but told me it would just continue leaking, which it has 1 year later.

Company A (big A/C company) told me to replace the whole unit because the fan was going to go out soon and both components are leaking freon, he didnt actually check for a leak, and gave me a quote for a 2 ton A/C for a 900 sqft condo costing about $5100 for unit and install with warrenty.

Company B (mom and pop shop A/C company) told me the leak is most likely in the Air Handler, just a guess and still needs to check, and they can replace just that part of the system for about $2000 while replacing the fan's capacitor and other parts for about $100.

I have a lot going on this year and would not like to dip into savings to fix so option b looks better and while I would rather replace the whole thing, I wanted to know if what Company B told me is true, I can replace just the Air Handler and not worry about the fan till later, which he said was in decent shape.

share|improve this question
    
Has freon not been illegal for ages? What country still allows freon systems to be used and even re-filled?! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Mar 21 '12 at 12:24
    
Not illegal in the US. However you must be licensed and the Freon must be captured with special equipment, and not vented into the atmosphere. –  SteveR Mar 21 '12 at 14:47
1  
In the USA, older R-22 systems (Freon) are no longer manufactured. New systems are made for R-410A. However, R-22 refrigerant itself is still available for for servicing existing systems. As time goes on, expect the cost of refilling an R-22 system to increase considerably. For More Info: epa.gov/ozone/title6/phaseout/22phaseout.html –  msemack Mar 21 '12 at 15:48
    
"Freon" in some cases may have become synonymous with "refrigerant", similar to Crescent® wrench or Kleenex. –  Tester101 Mar 21 '12 at 16:18
    
Yeah, its an older system that can recieve R-22 still just for servicing and the amount used each year is limited. –  AdamV Mar 21 '12 at 16:38
add comment

2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I would call a third company. They should actually try find the leak, not just sell you a new system.

What brand is your A/C system (Lennox, Carrier, Trane, etc)? Find the local HVAC company that is an authorized dealer for that brand. They will be most familiar with your system.

Once you find out where the leak is, you can make an informed decision from there.

Common techniques an HVAC company would use to check for a leak:

  1. Spray soapy water on the fittings and look for bubbles.
  2. Use an Electronic Nose to "sniff" around all the fittings (it can smell the refrigerant).
  3. Add a UV dye to the coolant, let the system run for a week or 2, then go over the system with a UV light (if you see the dye, there's your leak).

(Expect to pay for the leak testing. It can take a good hour or two to go over the whole system, and time is money.)

Once the leak is found, the HVAC company should be able to give you an estimate for the repair. If the leak is something simple like a fitting on a coolant line, the repair can be cheap/easy.

If the leak is in the coils or the compressor, expect the bill to be steep ($thousands). At that point, I would think about replacing the system.

Reasons to consider replacing:

  • You fix this leak, but what else is going to go in the system? If the system has been running for a while without enough coolant, there is increased wear and tear on the compressor.
  • R-22 systems will be getting progressively more and more expensive to service.
  • Newer systems are way more efficient, so expect a lower electric bill. You should be able to calculate the "pay back" period of the new system (how many years of reduced electric bills will it take to offset the cost of the new unit).
  • Check for Tax Credits and Rebates. The Energy Star Tax Credit expired at the end of 2011. However, you might be able to get a tax credit on your state or local taxes. Also check with your power company. My power company had a rebate of ~$300 for a high-efficiency AC.
  • Newer features on the new system (variable speed fan, quieter scroll compressor, touch screen programmable thermostat, etc).
share|improve this answer
    
I want to say my AC is a Carrier but i'm not 100% sure. Thanks so much for your info. Seems like so far everyone is just trying to sell me a new system without doing the work to check for the leak. –  AdamV Mar 21 '12 at 16:41
    
You can punch your ZIP code into www.residential.carrier.com and get a list of local dealers. If there are multiple hits in your area, ask around to see who has the best reputation. –  msemack Mar 21 '12 at 18:42
add comment

Forget them both! Find a company that will fix the leak and not try to sell you something new! Small leaks on the system are not terribly uncommon, but need to be fixed. I found my own leak in my new house after getting the run around from the contractor. I took some dish detergent mixed with water and brushed it on all the fittings I could get to, both in and outside the house. I found the return line to the outdoor compressor had a small leak. You will see it makes a bubble with the soap. I called the contractor who sent his HVAC guy to my house and I showed him. He refitted the fitting and topped off the freon. All is good now.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks! I will check that out. I figured if it is a leak why aren't these guys testing and repairing? –  AdamV Mar 21 '12 at 4:59
    
Agreed, it sounds like you are getting screwed. Just for a random comparision, I replaced my A/C unit (compressor, concrete slab, coils, electrical, etc.) with a 2.5 tonn unit and it only cost me about 2400 installed. Your unit is very old, there might be some merit to just replacing it instead of fixing it, but 5k for a new one or 2k for a repair sounds REALLY expensive. –  Steven Mar 21 '12 at 13:12
    
@Steven Prices will very based on location and other factors, comparing prices in city X to city Y is not a good way to shop around for such things. –  Tester101 Mar 21 '12 at 19:19
    
Sounds very pricey to me too. I replaced two Carrier 2.5 ton units for $5250 installed and I'm in Miami, Florida not a small town. –  Myriam Jan 12 at 17:01
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.