Recently, my wife and I purchased a home. We eventually got blissfully settled into our new construction abode when, without warning, our A/C unit bit the dust during a minor heat and humidity wave. Over the next two weeks we got an education as to how environmental regulation and policy changes costs homeowners. What follows is partly anecdotal and partly an assessment of that experience.
When the technicians arrived, they discovered that we had a small leak in the A/C unit similar to the picture on the right. The tech/HVAC expert recommended we replace the unit. This would not have been a huge cost to us because our new home was automatically covered by an homeowners warranty. However, the tech also told us that if we merely replaced our unit with a unit similar, that we would find any repairs in the near future so costly as to be prohibitive. Why? Because our unit was an R22 (freon) unit that the government is phasing out. Government regulation of the old (ozone damaging) freon is causing immense spikes in the price of R22. If a R22 unit fails, then, a person could spend hundreds to thousands of dollars to have a leak fixed and recharged with R22. Eventually, R22 will simply be unavailable and owners will be forced to convert to the new unit we were told. The tech was not incorrect.
The total phase out of R22 should be in about 5 years. The only way to get R22 presently is from a costly reclamation of the refrigerant from old units. Thus, the scarcity of R22 is causing the prices of the regierant to spike even more. Therefore, if a homeowner plans to stay in their house for past 5 years, simply fixing the old R22 unit is not beneficial to the pocketbook even in the present.
The government is replacing the old R22 freon with a more “environmentally safe” R410a fluid so as to protect the ozone. Not surprisingly, R410a is incompatible with the older A/C systems. For homeowners, this means that should they choose to “upgrade” to the new system, they will have to replace not only their A/C unit, but the interior lines and coils in their central air unit inside the house. The cost can reach into the thousands.
According to the NY Times, it was the Obama administration’s new rules enforcing the Montreal Protocol treaty to repair the hole in the ozone that has caused the recent change in industry standards. The advance of the new regulations are not the forwarded by one party however. It was the Republicans in the Reagan administration who, in 1989, initially supported the agreement.
Homeowners making decisions in the free market would unlikely have made this costly switch if left to make their own choices. Politics matters, and regulations cost consumers. For homeowners, and especially the elderly, not being able to afford this government mandated upgrade could make more than one’s pocketbook suffer in the sweltering heat of summer.