Coming home from work and finding out that your favorite after-work beverage is warm is not always the best way to end the day. Worse, the refrigerator defrosted all over your new floor and made a huge mess. You first thought may be that it needs a recharge, but this isn't always the case. It might just need a reset or need to be cleaned. What you may find is that a recharge is not as cost effective as you might think.
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What It Takes to Recharge a Refrigerator
First off in order to purchase and handle certain refrigerants, you need a license from the Environmental Protection Agency. All technicians are required to have one of these licenses. This license is a basic qualifier to get into the refrigeration trade.
Second, a strong knowledge of refrigeration is necessary. It is easy to overcharge a refrigerator. Small refrigeration systems like those in a residential refrigerator are what technicians call a critical charge system. This means that in order for the refrigerator to function the way it did coming off the assembly line, the refrigerant will need to be weighed in with a scale that measures ounces.
The Cost of Tools
One thing that may dissuade you in this endeavor is the cost of the tools necessary to repair the refrigerator: tools such as a vacuum pump, which a technician needs to evacuate contaminants from a system, and a manifold and hoses that attach to the refrigeration system for analysis. One expense that will seriously dissuade you is a full nitrogen tank. This may seem simple enough, but the core charge on a tank can run almost $200. If that doesn't do the trick, then the extra money for the regulator necessary to attach to the tank might.
All this is a good amount of money that can be put toward a new refrigerator, and you would also need a refrigerant scale, as mentioned above, to weigh in the refrigerant, which will cost over $100 for a budget-friendly one. Now even if you had the refrigerant license, the refrigerant can get pricey too. The small cans you can get from the auto store would work and typically come ready to hook up to a vehicle, but you would need to find a way to attach them to a residential refrigerator, which requires more money and advanced DIY ingenuity.
Checking for Leaks
A refrigeration technician will first check for leaks, which can be done with a flashlight and a simple visual inspection of the system. One thing they will be looking for is oil around the refrigeration piping. This is a strong indication of a leak. If nothing is obvious, then they will pull out an electronic refrigerant leak detector to search for the leak.
When the leak is found, it will be verified with a leak detection solution once the technician pressurizes it with the nitrogen. Nitrogen is used to prevent moisture and other contaminants from getting into the system unlike an air compressor may do. Once the leak is verified, then the technician will make the repair, if possible, with a torch and silver solder. This is a pretty pricey setup as well.
Recharging the Refrigerator
As you can tell, this is an endeavor that requires a lot of tools and know-how, and the recharging part still remains to be done. Recharging requires good basic knowledge of refrigeration. After a way to attach to the system has been established and repairs have been made, a technician will start the recharging process by attaching manifold gauges and hoses to the system and evacuating the system with the vacuum pump until all moisture and contaminants are out of the system, which requires the use of a micron gauge.
Recharging the system also requires knowing what the charge was originally. This will be weighed in ounces and indicated on the manufacturer's label next to the type of refrigerant required. The technician now weighs it in, which may require them to run the refrigerator's compressor to get it all into the system.
The Cost of Labor
Now comes the part where the technician is paid for their efforts. Depending on your location, you will be charged anywhere from $75 to $150 per hour, not including the refrigerant and other miscellaneous expenses. This may seem a little on the high side, but there is a lot of knowledge and investment required to be in this line of work.