Questions And Answers
Question from R. Bauer:
My AC was blowing warm. Tech came to the house. I told him I thought I had a leak. He did a little poking and prodding for a few minutes, mostly just checking the voltage, and then agreed. I asked him how much it costs to look for the leak. He told me that their company injects sealant instead, and it almost always works but that there are no guarantees. I said ok, and he injected it, and the system worked for five months before blowing warm again.
I was charged $99 service call, $50 for two pounds of R410A, and $89 for the sealant. I had no problem with the whole situation, but I've recently been told that, regardless of how one feels about sealant, the tech should've spent a certain amount of time looking for the leak as part of the service call. The company doesn't state any particular length of time for a service call, but people have told me he should have spent 30 - 60 minutes looking for the leak.
I called the owner, and he said that looking for leaks is a painstaking and tedious process and that it would never be included in a service call.
So my question for Mr. Winterbottom is whether he thinks looking for a leak should fall under a service call. There's nothing I can do about it now, but I would like to know so that I can decide whether I should use them again in the future.
What an excellent question!
We typically separate refrigerant leaks into two categories – “fast leaks” and “slow leaks”.
If a system is very low on refrigerant, the technician should have a conversation with the owner prior to performing any work. If a decision is made to charge up the system with Freon, the service technician should make some effort to ensure that you don’t have a “fast leak” that will cause the refrigerant to leak right back out.
If a leak is not detectable through an auditory inspection, i.e. if the technician can’t hear the leak, you probably have a “slow leak”. At this point, the technician should request permission from the customer to spend the additional time required to find the small leak using a digital leak detector as this would result in additional fees. In my opinion, a dye or sealant should only be used if the source of a leak cannot be easily traced as in the case of a “slow leak”.
With regards to the appropriate amount of time that a “service call” should take, there is no industry standard for this, so it is best to ask the individual service provider what you can expect of a first visit. Companies may quote anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour for a "service call" and many of them charge an additional fee for the "diagnostic". I believe that the “diagnostic” should be included in the “service call”, but a separate charge is not uncommon in the HVAC industry.
Most companies use a "book price" when determining what to charge for a repair, but this still leaves room to play with the numbers and incorporate upselling tactics. Some companies will offer a “free service call with repair”, this allows them to show a discount on the invoice, even if you are paying at or above "book price" for a repair.
In summary, I believe that a good HVAC company should do “some” investigation and then communicate their findings to the customer prior to using a sealant/dye treatment. That said, a “full” search for a very small leak, what we would categorize as a “slow leak” can be laborious and time-consuming, and most companies will charge an additional fee for the time required to perform that additional work properly.
Note that, if a service company has been to a property before, and they’ve kept a record of any work performed on a unit, they are going to be at an advantage when trying to determine the source of a problem. If it is their first time dealing with the equipment, they will have to rely on whatever information the customer can provide, unless there is a record with the manufacturer.
I hope this answers your question!
- Sean McCutcheon, Sean McCutcheon's Air Conditioning and Heating Inc.