Freon phase-out will cost consumers

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Reporter - Kendall Downing

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Ill. - Summer's here and home air conditioners all across the area are running. But if you've got an older model with a leak, watch out for the price tag that now comes with having to add Freon.

That's because R-22 refrigerant, or Freon, is being phased out by the U.S. government. R-22 has chlorine in it, which depletes the ozone layer.

The problem is, that's the refrigerant still required for a large number of home air conditioning units. Now what was once an inexpensive fix is becoming an investment.

The phone rings often at RSP Heating and Cooling.

Salesperson Lisa Gentz said one conversation keeps on coming up, and it has to do with Freon.

"I'm having it on a daily basis," she said, "We price it by the pound. Where we might have been 40 or 50 dollars a pound several years ago, it's approaching 100 dollars a pound now," said Gentz.

The EPA reduced the amount of R-22 freon companies are allowed to produce each year.

The goal is to encourage consumers to make the switch to more energy-efficient units that use R-410A, or Puron. All it's missing is that chlorine molecule, which is harmful to the ozone layer.

Technician Nathan Rhymer said the phase-out's sent repair bills soaring. For old units that use R-22, demand sets the price tag for the refrigerant.

"A lot of people are surprised that something can cost so much that can leak right back out," said Rhymer.

Gentz said the cost of Freon is going to increase.

"It's a commodity item. The prices will go up," she said.

And that means homeowners with old systems will eventually have a decision to make - pay top dollar for Freon or bite the bullet for a total upgrade.

"The utility savings are going to outweigh the repair costs of the R-22 hopefully five years down the road," said Gentz.

By 2020, companies will be required to stop manufacturing R-22 Freon.

R-22 is only used in home air conditioning units, not in cars or refrigerators.

The EPA has a fact sheet prepared on the phase-out plan. You can find it here.

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