HVAC system is leaking coolant

18 Replies

My HVAC system is leaking coolant in the property I'm currently living in, but will be renting out next year. The unit is a "luxury" condo associated with a country club-- generally an "A" property. Several other units in our building are rented by doctors in residency at the local hospitals. I'm planning on owning this property for at least 5 years because I know it will cash flow and the area is getting very popular because the building is on a lake. The HVAC guy gave me a few options:

1) Bare Bones $5000 - It will keep the place cool for roughly 8 years

2) "Old Reliable" $7,500 - It cools, and is known for 15+ year life and a 10 year warranty

3) Bells & Whistles $10,000 - High efficiency (we won't pay the electricity on this place), Variable speed comfort (it basically can adjust how much air it blows so that your house is at a constant temperature), can be connected with the "smart home" system so I can change the temperature or lock/unlock the door from my smartphone, have security cameras, connect the smoke detector etc. Smart home is $1000 more to install.

Should I spring for the Bells & Whistles (would a tenant even pay for that)? Is it worth it to upgrade from bare bones to something reliable? Or should I just get the one that cools the place and replace if I still have the place in 8 years?

Any advice here would help!

How old is your HVAC system?  HVAC, by the way, stands for Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning. With Air conditioning only being part of it and the part that has coolant (typically)  Depending on the damage that was caused by the leaking coolant, your heating side may be just fine.  Are prices above to replace furnace, cooling coil and condenser?  What type of system?  Seems pricey to me, but hard to tell what is being quoted and even more importantly, what is broken.  I would get at least two more people to look at it and probably a minimum of 5 for those prices. Leaking coolant could simply be repairing a broken line and recharging the system... I would get a better handle on what is actually broken. 

Its leaking refrigerant, why replace everything? . Tell the guy to recover the refrigerant, find and repair the leak, then properly vac and charge the system. Most likely is leaking at evaporator or service valves. Make sure he is EPA 608 licensed.

@Lauren Burkert

I just had the same experience with one of my rentals in GA. 

Below are the estimate from my property manager. I know it all depends on size, brand & location. But at least it will give you a general idea. I went for option #1 for the repair/replacement.

Hope it helps.

THe HVAC technician's findings were that the system extremely low on freon. they performed an electronic leak search and found evaporator coil leaking severely. Also found wires burned in the disconnect for air handler. Cost to refill system with 4 lbs. freon and replace disconnect could exceed $667 and there is no guarantee on how long it will take for the freon to leak back out. Below are a couple of different options the homeowner can choose from.

#1

- Replace air handler with a Goodman air handler and refill system with freon.

- Replace disconnect for air handler

- 5 year part and 1 year labor warranty

Total = $2,012.50

#2

- Replace complete system with a 3 ton Payne heat pump and air handler.

- Replace disconnect for air handler

- 10 year part and 1 year labor warranty

- Total = $4,312.50

I don't understand his bare bones system, because many bare bones systems come with 10 year warranties.

how big is your unit?  I have a system from 2000 that started leaking coolant at the evaporator.  It was builder grade.  To replace my 3 ton unit HVAC with an American Standard complete unit would have been $4500 and come with a 10 year warranty.  I was going to do that and my AC guy talked me into just replacing the coils for $800 including freon.  I've used him quite a bit on rentals and flips and I trust him.  I went with his suggestion.

sounds like you need to get some more quotes.  Try angieslist as well.

How big is the property in terms of interior sq footage?  Prices sound high to me, but if you are being quoted large units that might explain the higher price. 

@Lauren Burkert

Definitely not bare bones. Keeping cool is not the only function of an AC. Often overlooked is the dehumidification part. Bare bones get you quick cooling and only little dehumidification, which would take a lot of luxury out of your condo. The bells and whistles option gives you the highest comfort but is pricey. A 2 stage system. heating and cooling, is meanwhile standard in class A condos. I guess, this is what your HVAC calls the old reliable, despite that being a more modern development.

It will only cool for 8 years? wth?

If that is really what your hvac guy said, you need to find an new hvac company immediately, and delete this guys number.

Our latest quote from a couple of months ago for a new 2.5t inside and outside unit, 14 seer, with heat pump was $3,800.

The electric company have a $600 rebate to replace an inefficient existing AC system, and then offer another $400 rebate if you put in a heat pump. Bringing cost of a new system to $2800.

16 seer will cost approx $200 more iirc.

Going by your options it sounds like you get almost twice the life with option 2 compared to bare bones for an extra 50% of the cost. Id go with option 2 just because it mean you won't have to deal with this maintenance for a while. Option 3 just sounds over the top. I say option 2.

Most tenants only experience with HVAC is the thermostat and when it fails to work.  I would get a nest thermostat and a goodman/Rheem basic unit which should be 14 SEER by now.  It should last 10+ years and cost @$3000-4000.  The biggest difference in HVAC is the quality of installation, which will help determine how many times it breaks and how long it lasts.  Some of the nicer brands do last a bit longer, but it doesn't justify the costs.  The variable speed units sound nice on paper, but they are expensive to maintain and have lots of things to break.  Your tenants won't notice the difference even in a Class A rental, and there won't be a meaningful difference on resale either.  

I would look at American Home Shield Warranty, They cover Hvac units for a small deductible.  I put it on all my single family homes and my tenants pay the deductible.  So if my AC unit goes out its covered. no large expense out of my pocket.  You can spend the premium money for a rental unit but will you get a return on that investment if you can get an older unit covered with a home warranty that may cost 600 a year, or 60 a month than I would wrap that into my rent rolls and let the insurance company pay for it.  The warranty also covers appliances, electrical, plumbing etc....

Thanks for all the great questions and advice. I had another A/C quote or second opinion. He agreed with the first guy that the leak can't be repaired because it is inside the air handler (I think he said coil) and wherever it is he would "make more problems" by trying to repair the first one. He gave me a quote for replacing just the indoor unit: $800 with labor and materials for Goodman, or $1200 for Trane-- at this point they took the bells and whistles away. Sounds like maybe prices in my area are a little inflated?The condo is 1,700 sq feet and he says these will work, I think he said 3 ton system.

I'll try to get another guy out here next week for a third opinion. I had the first guy refill our refrigerant, and guess our leak is really slow because we are still getting cool air. Is it smart to wait until the refridgerant leaks out enough that I need to replace the air handler?

If the problem is with a leak, that's an air conditioning problem and not a heating problem, the exception being if you have a heat pump in lieu of a furnace.  Assuming it's the former, depending on the extent of the leak and where the leak is, having them add sealant and then repressurize could fix everything.

I like to price the actual parts (air handler, etc) on Amazon and eBay (new only), so that I have a basis for comparison when they quote me on repairs that involve replacing a unit.  It helps a lot when, upon them handing you a quote, you can look at them and say, "this is a $1,200 Goodman air handler, and your quote already includes separate installation labor... you must have accidentally added the cost of installation labor into the quote twice - once for the cost of the air handler, and again as an installation labor line item - here you go... can you please fix the quote?"

Originally posted by @Lauren Burkert :

Thanks for all the great questions and advice. I had another A/C quote or second opinion. He agreed with the first guy that the leak can't be repaired because it is inside the air handler (I think he said coil) and wherever it is he would "make more problems" by trying to repair the first one. He gave me a quote for replacing just the indoor unit: $800 with labor and materials for Goodman, or $1200 for Trane-- at this point they took the bells and whistles away. Sounds like maybe prices in my area are a little inflated?The condo is 1,700 sq feet and he says these will work, I think he said 3 ton system.

I'll try to get another guy out here next week for a third opinion. I had the first guy refill our refrigerant, and guess our leak is really slow because we are still getting cool air. Is it smart to wait until the refridgerant leaks out enough that I need to replace the air handler?

I have similar issue in one of my rental. can you please answer?

what you end up doing? and is that solution still working good?

Originally posted by @Tom Yung :

@Lauren Burkert

I just had the same experience with one of my rentals in GA. 

Below are the estimate from my property manager. I know it all depends on size, brand & location. But at least it will give you a general idea. I went for option #1 for the repair/replacement.

Hope it helps.

THe HVAC technician's findings were that the system extremely low on freon. they performed an electronic leak search and found evaporator coil leaking severely. Also found wires burned in the disconnect for air handler. Cost to refill system with 4 lbs. freon and replace disconnect could exceed $667 and there is no guarantee on how long it will take for the freon to leak back out. Below are a couple of different options the homeowner can choose from.

#1

- Replace air handler with a Goodman air handler and refill system with freon.

- Replace disconnect for air handler

- 5 year part and 1 year labor warranty

Total = $2,012.50

#2

- Replace complete system with a 3 ton Payne heat pump and air handler.

- Replace disconnect for air handler

- 10 year part and 1 year labor warranty

- Total = $4,312.50

@Tom Yung 

I have similar issue in one of my rental. is that solution still working good? or had any issues later? Thank you.

For a HVAC system that old, replacement is the best option as it will need less maintenance and give you the best services for a long period of time. Whereas if you invest in repair of the major part, it will cost you more and there is no guarantee that it will last long. I would suggest you to consult the professionals of this such as air conditioning contractors Hudson County NJ. Ask your queries online and they would answer you soon.

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