A Rise in Freon Theft

RENO, NV - Have you turned on your air conditioning yet only to find it's not working? It's a problem several people across the Truckee Meadows have experienced, but it may not be because the unit needs to be serviced.

Dennis Saba, a technician with Anderson Heating and Cooling has been repairing air conditioning units for several year, but lately he's noticed many jobs are starting to look the same.

Clients are calling because their unit isn't putting out cold air, and Saba knows just what to look for.

"The caps are missing," he said "There will be some oil at the port and the system's blowing hot air."

As soon as he sees that, Saba knows exactly what the problem is. The client has been the victim of Freon theft, and it's easy for thieves to ta

"All you have to do is take the cap off, push the core in, and refrigerant comes flying out."

Saba says the thieves have been targeting vacant homes as well as neighborhoods where homes are less clustered. And they are hitting anywhere they can.

"We've had about six calls this year," Saba said. "Some are in Reno, some in Sparks, some in Dayton, even in Gardnerville."

The Reno Police Department says they had one report last year where thieves took parts from and abandoned superstore in North Reno. They say air conditioning parts are often stolen, but Saba is noticing the trend grow.

"We've definitely seen more of the theft occur in the past 2 to 3 years."

He has also noticed the thieves are targeting older units because they contain a very specific item; R-22.

It's the common refrigerant used in units older than 2010, but the use of it is being phased out because it has been deemed bad for the environment.

The government has required the use of R-22 be banned by 2020 but by next year, any units sold must use the more environmentally friendly 410A Freon. Saba says the regulations are making the R-22 Freon more valuable.

"Right now they're reducing the production, so supply and demand has gone through the roof and it is much more expensive than it use to be."

Which may be why thieves are stealing the Freon, and why it's going to cost you to replace it.

"It's going for about $50 a pound today," Saba said. "An average system if it's empty, is going to need about 4 to 8 pounds. It's going to cost you a couple hundred [dollars] to replace what's been taken."

Saba says to ward off thieves, you can build an enclosure around your unit, but he also recommends installing locking caps.

"They require a key to take them off so [it's] a little bit tougher to get into your system."

The Freon can be collected and resold on the black market, but that requires the use of special equipment. Saba says it's more likely the thieves are kids looking for a high. They can easily collect the Freon in a bag and huff it, but it's often fatal from the very first sniff. The Freon blocks air from getting into your lungs and will cause suffocation.