When Kim Crawford called her air conditioner repair company to top off her Freon because her unit was leaking, she was shocked at the price.
"I got new Freon, and it was twice as expensive as it was just a year ago," she said.
Her old air conditioner uses R-22, the same type of Freon most air conditioners more than two years old use. Now the coolant is one hot commodity. The cost is triple what it was just six months ago.
Air conditioning companies are now having to pass along the increased cost to their customers.
"A lot of customers are surprised," said Ryan McLean of Shafer Services.
Refrigerant leaks are common problems with aging air conditioners. But where it used to be no big deal to add a pound or two, now it's a big costly deal.
"You find it anywhere from $250 to $500 is what people are charging to put in two to three or four pounds of Freon," McLean said, depending on what the company paid for it.
Why the price jolt?
The Environmental Protection Agency is phasing out R-22 because it depletes the ozone. The regulation that goes back to 1987 calls for 90 percent of R-22 to be phased out by 2015 and to be virtually obsolete by 2020.
The government has not yet announced how much R-22 will be available this year, causing the sudden spike in prices. "The price tripled overnight," McLean said.
A newer Freon type, R-410-A, is more environmentally friendly.
Homeowners can determine if their air conditioner is affected by checking the sticker on the unit. It will have R-22 written on it.
Units that take the R-410-A have a pink sticker.
The phase-out means homeowners are left to weigh their options: repair or replace?
"Once you reach a point where you're having to put Freon in all the time, it's a good choice to go ahead and replace the equipment.
Crawford has been delaying the expense of a whole new air conditioner, but expects the time has just about come.
"It's kind of like an old car. You put into it and put into it. Just buy a new car," she said. "It becomes silly to keep putting money into it."