Air conditioning technicians like Rico Loprinzo, owner of Rivertech Heating and Air, are keeping busy as summer heat takes a toll on old residential systems. He's been delivering plenty of coolant.
"Every year we have to stock up on Freon if we want to be competitive," says Loprinzo.
The traditional R-22 coolant is being slowly phased out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for not being environmentally friendly. Its studies have shown the refrigerant damages the ozone layer in the atmosphere. The decreasing demand is raising the cost. There's a hidden danger in that, if you call the wrong repair people, they won't use what's called a legitimate "drop-in" coolant. You might end up with propane because it's cheaper.
"The contractor could tell them, hey, this is a drop-in or they don't tell them anything," says Loprinzo. "They just fix the air conditioning, they're on their way, and then they have refrigerant that's flammable."
Loprinzo wants to make it clear that he believes most of his competition in Chattanooga is honest, but he thinks consumers should always be careful.
"If we have a lightning strike or the compressor shorts out, it will ignite and we'll have problems," adds Loprinzo.
"Automobiles get hot. So does your HVAC system," states Battalion Chief Rick Boatwright of the Chattanooga Fire Department. "The explosion hazard's high."
Boatwright says this is the reason propane-based coolants are illegal.
"This has been outlawed by the EPA. It was outlawed in 2010. So we want to make sure the public is aware of these things," adds Boatwright. Loprinzo says if you have to call a technician, be home when he or she arrives. If you have a system installed before 2010 and you see green colored coolant tanks (R-22), this is a good sign. You want to see pink colored tanks (410-A) for new systems.
Watch out for suspicious colors.
"This could be anything, this yellow jug. That's a red flag," says Loprinzo. "This orange jug could be R-209. That's another really high level of propane."