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Question DetailsAsked on 9/15/2016

ow much shoulda/c leak detection test cost in zip code 33484 for a 15 year old a/c and is it worth it

late June 2016 a/c stopped cooling but blew warm air techs came and put in 2 3 refrigerant,and said evaporator and condenser coils were fine. just under 3 mo later it suddenly stopped cooling. (this week, mid Sept. 2016) They came back and said it was very low and put in 3 # refrigerant as a courtesy. They said a leak test would cost $700-$900 and each part and line had to be closed off in sequence. Because it's about 15 years old it was recommended to replace with a new 2 1/2 ton unit for $2850 instead (this seems high). But if the leak test shows leak the unit needs to be replaced anyway. Also after they left it was cooling. I heard a sound inside by the air handler which sounded like escaping air. Today it is not cooling. I left it on autofan because it is 90 degrees inside. It is about 15 years old. How much should a new unit cost and is that the best option?

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Probably normally in the $150-350 range depending on method used and how much labor time or how many trips he has to make to look for dye leakage if using the dye method.

Each component has to be isolated only if using pressure test/pressure loss method to find the leak. There are other detection methods including detectors to "sniff" the leaking gas, dye that is put into the refrigerant and appears at the leak point, chemical sprays that are sprayed on the lines and turn color in contact with the gas, bubble solutions to detect leaks, stethoscope to listen along the lines to find the leak (which should work if leaking off in days as opposed to months), and infrared camera methods of detecting leaks too, all which do not require the unit do anything but run with enough gas in it to work - no disassembly required (other than removing housings or ducting coverplates to access various components).

Not sure how they could say the evaporator and coil were OK without a test - but if it is a leak in the tubing repair is likely in the $500 ballpark or less depending on whether a repair or full tubing replacement is needed (rare), so if the unit has been operating well might be worth it - though as you realize the unit is at the point where a major failure can be expected in the nearer as opposed to distant future. However, a lot of units run 20-30 years and rare ones more than that without a major failure.

If you heard a sound like escaping air and it drained off in days, he should be able to pressurize it with nitrogen to detect that with no problem, and determine whether it is a line or fitting leak (usually easily fixed), or a leak in the evaporator (which can commonly cost $1000-1500 or even more to replace and is very rarely fixable, so that brings in total replacement as an issue).

You can find a LOT of previous similar questions with answers about the repair / replace decision, economic issues, new unit warranty versus limited or no warranty on repairs, efficiency considerations and potential savings, etc in the Home > HVAC link in Browse Projects, at lower left. Generally, for a 15 year old unit, one would replace rather than repair a major component failure. Ditto for typical costs - $3000 is probably in the normal cost range for a 2-1/2 ton unit - very rarely closer to $2000 range, and above $4000 generally only in difficult access situation, extremely high cost areas, 3 or more unit mini-split (as opposed to central air), or if going with a higher than minimum efficiency unit.

Certainly, in your area A/C is a heavy use item, so if you are looking at an expensive repair that combined with the age of the unit would certainly weight it more to the replacement side, because you would be getting a probably 20-30% more energy efficient unit in the new unit. Of course, whether you intend to live in this house for a decade or more, whether $3000 or so is going to significantly set you back, or if your finances make a repair at minimal cost with crossing your fingers the unit lasts another 5 years or so the better bet all come into the decision too. At this point, for that diagnostic cost and assuming you would still be looking at maybe $500-1500 repair cost (including lost gas replacement) on top of that, a new unit would look pretty good assuming you can handle the expense. For a few hundred diagnostic cost, that puts it in the category where personally I would go for the diagnosis and be prepared to decide at that time whether to replace or repair, depending on what the repair estimate is after the leak is found. Of course, once the diagnosis is done, that does not mean you have to buy a new unit (if that is the route you choose) from that company - you could still get competitive bids on a new unit before having it replaced.

While it sounds like you have a nice HVAC tech to give you 3# of gas for free, I do worry about his lack of diagnostic ability - so you would have to decide whether to go with the same company or not from here out.

BTW - running the fan is fine, but do not run the unit when low on gas - can cause compressor failure.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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