How To Spot Counterfeit Refrigerant and Protect Your AC From Damage

Lydia Schapiro
Written by Lydia Schapiro
Updated April 22, 2022
Two air conditioners outside a home
Photo: Konstantin L / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Counterfeit refrigerants are fake refrigerants. 

  • These can be harmful and cause damage to your AC system.

  • Avoid counterfeit refrigerants by taking steps such as researching your supplier.

  • Always hire a reputable, licensed HVAC pro to handle refrigerants.

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As a homeowner, it’s important to stay alert to all relevant home scams that could negatively impact your home. In the case of counterfeit refrigerants, people, unfortunately, will try to sell you cheaper solutions as refrigerant increases in price. Become a more proactive homeowner by equipping yourself with the knowledge and resources to know what to do if you suspect you have a counterfeit refrigerant. 

What are Counterfeit Refrigerants?

Counterfeit refrigerants are imitation refrigerants that mimic approved refrigerants. Counterfeit refrigerants often contain a corrosive or fatal mixture of gasses, usually a combination of different refrigerants.

These fake refrigerants often contain methyl chloride, which are hazardous if exposed to or breathed in. Counterfeit refrigerants may be impure and harmful to your health and AC system and often have discounted prices. 

Types of Refrigerants Most Susceptible to Fakes

Certain types of refrigerants are more likely to be counterfeited. These include R-22, R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A. 

How to Spot a Counterfeit Refrigerant 

Although you won’t always be able to spot a counterfeit refrigerant, there are a few measures you can take if you suspect something unusual. 

Know the Supplier

A trusty supplier is less likely to supply counterfeit materials, so research how long the supplier has been around and look for reviews to help you determine their reputation.

Look at the Price

If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Compare quotes from other suppliers to gauge the accuracy.

On average, air conditioner freon refill costs around $100 to $300 for units that use R410A refrigerant. This can rise to $600 if your unit requires R-22 refrigerant. Meanwhile, the cost for wholesale R-22 refrigerant is around $20 to $50 per pound on average. 

Look at the Cylinder 

Another way you can spot a counterfeit refrigerant is by looking for physical signs on the cylinder. If the refrigerant cylinder looks scraped or repainted, it may be counterfeit.

Hire a Reputable, Licensed HVAC Pro To Protect Your AC

A man checks an air conditioner
Photo: AROON PHUKEED / Moment / Getty Images

If you suspect you’ve introduced a counterfeit refrigerant into your system, hiring a professional HVAC service is crucial. A professional will be able to inspect your system and confirm whether or not the refrigerant is counterfeit.  

It’s also essential to make sure the professional you hire has all the necessary HVAC certificates for performing the work around your refrigerant. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires three types of certifications: HVAC technicians may have: Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3. 

Look into which type is best for the specific issue, and confirm beforehand that the technician has it.

How Can Counterfeit Refrigerants be Harmful?

Having a counterfeit refrigerant in your home poses several risks which are laid out below. 

System Damage

If you have counterfeit refrigerant, contaminating chemicals such as methyl chloride (R-40)may rust your system. In the short-term, rust leads to leaks and compressor failure. Long-term, you might be staring down potentially costly AC damage repairs

Decreased Performance

Your AC system won’t cool spaces as efficiently or effectively with counterfeit refrigerants. And because your system is working harder to keep up, you may incur higher energy bills. 

Fires or Explosions

Counterfeit refrigerants often contain improper chemical mixes, which, when mixed with aluminum, can become a toxic combination. When these chemicals come into contact with air, the reaction can cause an explosion or fire.

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