Your residential air conditioning system uses refrigerant, a chemical that allows the system to cool your home. While an AC system’s refrigerant supply is self-contained, leaks do sometimes develop. If you’ve recently attempted to service or even tune-up your air conditioner, you might have noticed a sudden increase in prices. Since the start of this year, refrigerant costs have gradually risen from $70 a pound to over $300 per pound in some cases.
Why is this happening? While higher prices can indicate supply shortages, this is not the case. These recent changes are largely due to new regulations and international tariffs affecting the refrigerant market. Continue reading below for additional information about why costs are up.
Fortunately, There’s No Shortage
While the total supply of refrigerant is stable, the large jump in price caught the attention of some distributors. Buying in bulk was no longer as cost effective as it generally was. Many companies slowed their purchases as a result. And in some cases, customers who consistently placed large orders have been temporarily restricted from doing so. This ensures more customers have access to the refrigerant they need. Waiting for prices to stabilize may appear to be a supply shortage, but the industry is merely being cautious.
So Why Are Costs Rising?
Higher refrigerant prices are a direct result of other countries competing against the U.S. economy. Other countries abroad are subsidizing their own refrigerant production, which lets them overwhelm the U.S. markets with an artificially inexpensive supply. When these policies are successful, U.S. manufacturers are pushed out of the market, after which the global supply is controlled by another country. This is called “dumping” and can result in economic monopolies.
In an attempt to combat these policies, the U.S. government responded with anti-dumping tariffs and made them retroactive to June 18, 2019. Suppliers suddenly have larger expenses to pay on past product, and there is some uncertainty around future pricing as well. This is causing the price on available refrigerant to spike and fluctuate while the industry adjusts. Currently refrigerants entering the country are subject to a tax of around 210% percent. The U.S. could replenish refrigerant stockpiles through European markets, but costs there are similarly prohibitive. Even with tariffs in place, European refrigerant is still more expensive.
R125 Is a Chemical Component of today’s Refrigerants
The issue is further complicated by mopolized control of R125, a key component in several different refrigerants. Manufacturing the most common refrigerant, R410A, requires R125. R125 is also affected by the anti-dumping tariff, leaving American companies with fewer options.
Will This Affect New Refrigerants and HVAC Equipment?
Some industry professionals are waiting to see if the increase in price speeds up the adoption of new refrigerants. A formal transition to newly developed refrigerants is scheduled for 2022, but it is uncertain if the anti-dumping tariffs will hamper the rollout.
Similar to how the U.S. phased out R22 refrigerant over a period of 10 years, R410a will be gradually replaced by more effective and environmentally-friendly alternatives like R32. The 10-year transition allows the industry time to adapt. When R410a compatible systems start to fail, R32 and other A2L refrigerants should be much more easily accessible.
Environmental policy like the Montreal Protocol may also influence future prices. Provisions drafted for this legislation dictate that refrigerant prices must slowly increase to encourage the transition to R32. As R410a is phased out, the higher costs also mirror the diminishing global supply.
You May Not Be Able to Avoid Overpaying, But We’ll Help Minimize Risk
Finding a leak in your refrigerant supply is already frustrating without the punishingly high costs. Local service companies such as Norrell Service Experts are taking steps to help their customers avoid these increased costs. We’ll do our best to maintain a steady supply of refrigerant while offering guidance on cost effective solutions for staying cool and comfortable. Give us a call today at 205-267-0023 for more information.