Since you can’t vent refrigerant, recovery must be part of your regular service procedures. Which recovery unit you use can affect your efficiency and your bottom line.

The price of portable recovery units has been coming down, especially since contractors have demanded lighter weight, often sacrificing convenience features in the process. Price shouldn’t be the only, or even the primary, consideration.

How the unit performs, how easy it is for technicians to learn and use, and what kind of service support is available contribute to the overall cost.


Your first thought is likely to center on the unit’s recovery speed. After all, that gives you a good indication of how quickly you can complete a job.

Your best guide here is the ARI Directory, which lists equipment that has been certified in accordance with ARI Standard 740. Test conditions and criteria are specified by the standard, so you can be sure you’re comparing apples to apples when you use the Directory. For instance, tests are done at 104°F, so you know the units can handle fairly high ambient conditions.

Look at liquid recovery and vapor recovery rates. Check also to see if the push-pull method (also known as liquid lift) is listed as a recovery process. This is a fast way to pull a lot of refrigerant out of the system.

If you work on relatively large systems, this is a good way to recover the bulk of the charge before switching over to regular recovery for the remaining vapor in the system.

Check the designated refrigerants, too. Most cover the bases — R-12, -22, -134a, and -502. Some are limited to one or two refrigerants. As R-410A gains acceptance, a unit with high-pressure capabilities can be useful.

Taking into account the type and size of system you typically work on can prevent regrets after the purchase.

Ease of use

Unit weight is a critical issue for most contractors. Think about carrying the recovery unit from the truck to the jobsite, especially if you’ve got to go up a ladder.

But the weight doesn’t tell the whole story. Some units are much better balanced than others, components are carefully placed, so it takes less effort to carry them. Handles on one may be more comfortable, more ergonomic, than on another. Lift various units, take them for a “test walk” to determine which is the best fit for you.

Take a close look at the unit’s design. Are controls easy to reach? Are they clearly marked? Can you see the gauge(s) while you’re operating the unit? What about instructions?

Glance through the operating manual to see how thoroughly it describes the operation. That can save time when you have a new technician to train.

Tank overfill protection is another consideration for the prospective buyer. It’s not required for ARI certification, but you have to be sure to monitor tank weight during recovery if there’s no overfill device. A tank with too much refrigerant is a hazard to the user.

For small systems, this isn’t as big a concern since you’re dealing with limited amounts of refrigerant at one time. But if you work on larger systems, tank overfill protection of some kind can be invaluable — it takes the burden of monitoring the entire recovery process off the technician.

(Robinair has found a float cable to be effective: It shuts off recovery when the tank reaches 80% capacity, providing plenty of room for vapor expansion as temperatures climb.)

The amount of time the technician has to spend monitoring recovery can have an impact on productivity. You may decide it’s worth the extra money for some automatic features, particularly automatic liquid-to-vapor switching and tank-full shut-off. That way, you can put gauges on the system, diagnose any problems, and start recovery.

Again, considering the size and type of service work your shop does can help you determine the features that will be most beneficial. If you work on R-22 systems for the most part, the clearing procedure won’t be as important to you as it will be if you work on a variety of systems. In that case, fast automatic clearing after every job may be a big plus.

After-sales support

The time to consider service is before you buy a recovery unit, not after.

The last thing you need is the surprise of finding out that replacement parts aren’t available when you need them. All of a sudden, your carefully thought-out purchase decision doesn’t look so good.

Ask what kind of support the manufacturer provides. If you have problems with set-up or operation, how fast will you get help? If a part breaks (whether it’s user error or a problem with the unit), how quickly can it be fixed? Can you make repairs or does the unit have to be shipped back to the factory?

Without a recovery unit, there are a/c jobs you can’t do. Robinair, for instance, provides a year-round technical hotline users can call with questions or problems, as well as a nationwide network of service centers.

The underlying issue with regard to after-sales support is the stability of the manufacturer. Since the Clear Air Act Amendments were passed in 1990, a lot of recovery equipment manufacturers have come and gone.

Check into the reputation of the company. Write for information or visit the company’s website. What’s the company’s background? How long has it been in existence? Are they experienced in air conditioning and refrigeration?

Information is readily available from a variety of sources, and the knowledge that the company you buy from will be there to support you long after the sale is worth a little extra time and effort upfront.