ACHRNEWS

HVACR Tech Saves Customers Cash With Repair Methods

October 13, 2008

BABYLON, N.Y. - New Subway franchisee Kim Rico quickly learned this fact about foodservice equipment: Most refrigeration systems will eventually leak.

After four years of successful Subway retailing here in Babylon, Rico had to navigate the sometimes-costly road of refrigeration repair. The suburban Long Island store’s walk-in freezer had developed a leak that two previous refrigeration service companies charged for, but never remedied. Aside from the several hundred dollars of service calls she had already paid for, Rico was faced with another $1,000 to $2,000 component replacement cost, with no guarantee that the leak was repaired.

“With refrigeration equipment repair, you’re at the mercy of a service company,” said Rico. “The first two companies either didn’t want to fix it right, or didn’t know how to fix them at a minimal cost to the customer.”

Upon a friend’s recommendation, a third service company, WJW HVAC/R (West Babylon) took the repair, which resulted in a $300 service call. One year later, the 3-ton, R-404A walk-in freezer is still operating at the manufacturer’s original specification pressures and hasn’t needed any additional refrigerant charges or repair.

Rico was so impressed, she recommended WJW HVAC/R to her 80-store district headquarters. Now the five-year-old refrigeration service contractor is getting additional Subway work throughout Long Island. “I really feel lucky I ended up with a service tech who is an honest, down-to-earth, family man who isn’t into gouging customers,” Rico said.

WJW HVAC/R’s president William Wolanin won’t dispel Rico’s assessment of him, but said realistically that the money he saved Rico is due to cutting-edge advancements in refrigeration service techniques many contractors haven’t embraced yet. One such advancement is a high-technology sealant many service techs are also starting to use to stop leaks. Prior to 2000, before refrigeration sealants came on the HVACR market, Rico would have been faced with only component replacement. Now sealants have become a last-resort solution for “phantom” or inaccessible refrigeration system leaks. Sealants not only give older or damaged equipment an extended life, they also prevent refrigerant from leaking into the environment.

Wolanin has been using Super Seal by Cliplight Manufacturing, Toronto. This patented formula of organosilanes is injected into a system’s low side and remains a nonreactive liquid indefinitely until it leaks out with refrigerant. Once the sealant reacts with moisture in the atmosphere, it permanently bonds around the leaking hole.

Wolanin, who has 30 years’ experience servicing everything from high-end residential a/c to commercial absorbers and chillers, has been using sealants for four years when leaks can’t be found, or they are inaccessible and the occasion arises to save the end-user from equipment replacement.

In Rico’s case, Wolanin suspects a short-lived copper discharge line had suffered from galvanic corrosion in a condensate pan - a common occurrence in low-temp freezers. Rico’s choices were having Wolanin cut out the piece at a minimum $1,000 cost, or having Super Seal Commercial sealant applied for less than $300. Additionally, if Wolanin replaced the component and the system still leaked, Rico probably would have gone to yet another service company.

“You never know if there’s more than one leak until you start fixing them or replacing suspected components,” said Wolanin, who first discovered sealants at the B&F/Johnstone Supply, Farmingdale, N.Y. “I knew the sealant would fix any other leak too, so the chances of a callback were greatly reduced.”

Wolanin has since fixed a leaking, small, reach-in cooler with Super Seal HVAC/R, which is designed for systems between 1.5 and 5 tons. The former R-22 reach-in cooler uses R-409A refrigerant and was bought used by Rico.

RESIDENTIAL USE

Wolanin’s first trial of sealants was a condemned, three-ton a/c residential split system where a homeowner requested a second opinion. The condenser definitely needed replacing, but other service companies wanted to replace the entire system for upwards of $5,000, which would have also required extensive construction subcontracting because the air handler was built into a section of the basement.

Instead, Wolanin saw an opportunity to try a sealant in a no-lose situation where the homeowner was expected to foot the cost of a total replacement. For the $200 cost of a service call and sealant application, plus the cost of a condenser replacement, the homeowner got a working system that hasn’t needed refrigerant since it was repaired four years ago.

“The ironic part of this was that the homeowner had a mechanical engineering background, so he had a great appreciation for the fact that the leak was not findable and we saved him a lot of money,” Wolanin said.

Using a sealant is Wolanin’s last resort when the aforementioned leak detection tests fail and the system can’t be repaired conventionally. “Service techs who say all leaks can be repaired are wrong because I’ve been in this business 30 years and some leaks are just too difficult or too costly to find for the equipment owner,” said Wolanin. “Using a sealant saves the client money and helps retain their trust in your services.

“Who is the client going to choose for the next job, the service tech that wants to charge him $5,000 for a new unit, or the service tech that fixes the existing system for less than $500 and gets five or more years of service out of it?”

For more information, visit www.cliplight.com.

Sidebar: Tips for Leak Detection

Sealants can be used when leaks are either undiscoverable or inaccessible. William Wolanin, president of WJW-HVAC/R, a West Babylon, N.Y.-based refrigeration service contractor, takes the following steps to first determine if there is a leak:

• Perform a quick soap bubble test to spot easily found leaks.

• Pressure test the system with nitrogen for audible signs of a leak; fix the leak conventionally if possible.

• Perform an electronic sniffer test.

• Use a halide torch test.

• Inject dye and perform a UV light test.

Sidebar: Tips for Applying Sealants

William Wolanin, president of WJW-HVAC/R, West Babylon, N.Y., has successfully used HVACR sealants for four years. Here are his product application tips.

• Recover the refrigerant with an appropriate refrigerant recovery machine.

• Replace old filter-driers with new filter-driers.

• Evacuate the system down to 30 microns with a vacuum pump at least two times to boil off any moisture in the system. “I use a micron gauge because it’s more accurate than refrigeration gauges, but it’s not mandatory,” Wolanin said.

• Recharge the system with refrigerant.

• Inject the sealant into the low side after first evacuating the charging hose of possible contaminants. System refrigerant rushes into the vacuum-packed sealant can, mixes with the several ounces of sealant, and transports it into the system.

• Run the system. The sealant stays in a liquid state before bonding from atmospheric moisture only when leaving an exit hole with the escaping refrigerant.

• Check system pressures. If possible, return after a week to check system pressures again.

Publication date: 10/13/2008