No one has to tell James Chelini there is a recession. The 35-year-veteran refrigeration tech is reminded of tough times every time he repairs foodservice refrigeration equipment and sees his clients normally-busy restaurants half-empty.

Unfortunately for restaurateurs however, their refrigeration service/maintenance costs remain the same whether business is good or slow.

Such was the case for El Boqueron, a Silver Springs, Md.-based Tex-Mex cuisine restaurant with a leaking reach-in cooler evaporator coil. Local codes require a cooler, so the 14-year-old family-owned restaurant was faced with an $800 replacement including installation, as leaks in evaporator coils are sometimes not cost-effective to fix.

But Chelini offered a less costly option, which was to seal the unit using a newer sealing method.

Chelini, who is vice-president of AB Chelini Air Conditioning & Heating Co., a Cheverly, Md.-based plumbing, heating, air conditioning and refrigeration contractor, forewarned co-owner Milton Contreras that the Cliplight Super Seal ACR sealant he uses doesn’t work on every leak. Rather, it seals holes only 300 microns and smaller (about the diameter of a human hair).

However, Chelini did note that after a dozen successes sealing leaking coils, line sets, and other components of air conditioning rooftops and refrigeration systems over the last four years with the sealant, all those projects continue to run at original system specifications.

Chelini’s service call, diagnosis, sealing, and general check-up on the unit’s vital statistics was $200. One year later, the unit was still running flawlessly, according to Chelini.


The approach has been used at other restaurants and commercial buildings including on small reach-in coolers up to large rooftop units and chillers that date back as far as four years ago. These units are still running long after other service techs had declared them either too expensive to repair or couldn’t find the leak and continued to illegally top-off the system with refrigerant knowing full well it would leak into the environment again, according to Chelini.

Chelini first discovered the Cliplight sealants at his HVAC distributor, Aireco, Rockville, Md., during a challenge of a leaking air conditioning heat pump system in a rotisserie chicken restaurant. The ground floor restaurant and the two-story strip mall’s second-floor sporting goods retailer had feuded for years over cooking odors. Chelini theorized that the leak was in the refrigeration line sets inaccessibly embedded in the walls on the second floor. The upstairs tenant refused entry. Thus, the restaurateur had no options but either to file lawsuits for entry or rerun new line sets at an estimated cost that could run into the thousands of dollars.

Chelini said he saw that opportunity to use the sealant, which he said worked immediately, eliminating the task of replacing line sets and the walls in which they are recessed.

Chelini said he always tries to first locate the leaks to repair them conventionally before resorting to a sealant. Typically he prefers to charge the system with nitrogen to locate leaks then use soap bubbles to confirm it. If the leak can’t be found, isn’t accessible, or can’t be repaired economically, sealant is applied.

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Publication date:09/07/2009