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Question DetailsAsked on 5/28/2016

Legal responsibility of air conditioner seller to repair a leak rather than just replacing Freon.

On 6/23/2005 I had an air conditioning unit installed. On 6/20 /2008 an inspection indicated the need to add 2 pounds of R-22. No mention was made of inspecting for leaks on the service invoice. Over the years I have repeatedly have had to have Freon added. I just read on Angie's list that the installer was responsible for repairing the leak under Federal Law.. If this is true do I have any recourse at this time?

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Installer would be responsible to fix the leak IF unit is still under warranty for leaks - not forever. 2 pounds per 3 years (if that is a pretty constant rate) is not a large leak, so the tech may have felt this was an acceptable loss. If a newer unit (say less than 10-12 years old - which yours almost certainly is not) almost all have sealed compressors, so if all joints are right there should be negligable leakage in the system. If an older compressor (you can't as a consumer tell the type by looking at it) some of them leak a bit through the compressor during the run cycle predominately, so a pound every couple of years or so (about your rate) was normal.

Unfortunately, the EPA set specific loss standards for commercial units - specifically defining how much of a leak you could have before you HAD to fix the leak and were not allowed to refill the unit without fixing it. Not so for residential units, so it is up the technician to determine, in his mind, whether this is a fixable "leak" or "incidental loss". For your leak size, probably a gray area in most HVAC contractor's minds. If he determines it is a "leak" rather than "incidental losses" then he is not supposed to just top it off - should be finding the leak and fixing it (which of course you pay for), because intentionally discharging R-22 (Freon) to the atmosphere is illegal except in specific cases which are spelled out in the law (mostly related to unavoidable small discharges in the conduct of testing and repairing a unit). And putting Freon into a known leaking unit is classified as an intentional discharge, and there have been convictions of HVAC contractors refilling systems which are leaking off basically the entire charge and being refilled without repair.

Certainly you have been paying for service calls and adding Freon over the years so there is that cost, but you did not have to pay repair cost to fix the leak which might or might not have been more than that total - so I don't think you have any reasonable recourse, though you can certainly make them know you are unhappy that this possibly solvable situation was not proposed to you to be fixed long ago, assuming you are using the same company each time. With many old-time HVAC techs it might not even register to mention that possibility to you, because in the old days a pounds or two a year was not considered unusual nor especially fixable.

Next time it needs topping off, depending on how much you are paying for that, you could ask what a leak diagnosis/detection would cost - of course he can't say what any repair cost will be without knowing where the leak is, but if a pretty constant rate over 10 years or more probably more likely a fitting leak rather than a hole in the evaporator coil for instance, which would be expected to increase as time goes by.

Another factor - you are into the range where your unit would be considered "mature" - meaning both prone to major failure due to age, and also prone to replacement rather than repair because when you consider the repair cost for a unit likely to only last a few more years or so, versus a new unit with higher efficiency hence lower operating cost, the balance will be starting to tip towards replacement rather than any expensive repair. Of course, a simple tubing or fitting leak is not expensive and I would certainly recommend getting leak detection (meter possibly, perhaps dye injection will be needed to locate it) for probably $200 range or less if scheduled for and done at normal servicing or topping off time, to at least then get a quote on what the repair would cost. Then you have the data necessary to determine whether you want to fix it or not. More discussion on the economics of replacement versus repair of older units in a number of previous questions with answers in the Home > HVAC link in Browse Projects, at lower left.

As the EPA gets into the auditing program on the legally required recordkeeping on use of Freon, with convictions with heavy fines now hitting the books and several contractors losing their license to use refrigerant gases (which would put them out of business), more and more HVAC contractors will likely be taking a more serious attitude about leaks, telling clients that any significant leak HAS to be fixed or they cannot refill the system.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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