4 Tips to Avoid Trouble With Your AC Condensate Drain

AC Unit

A central air conditioning system is composed of several smaller mechanical systems including the condensate drainage system. The condensate drainage system seems insignificant, but a malfunctioning condensate drain can create serious structural problems. Learn four ways to manage your AC condensate drain.

1. Know the Location of Your Condensate Drain System

At the bottom end of your AC unit’s cooling coils is a shallow pan or gutter system to collect condensate from the coils. Since coils can be configured horizontally or vertically in their coil box, the pan shape, sizes, and orientation depend on the model of AC unit you’re using.

Coil boxes and air-handling unit service panels have multiple openings for drain lines that connect to the drain pans under coils. The correct opening for your AC unit’s condensate drainage depends on where the drain pan is located.

Some drain pans are hard to see without taking the entire coil box apart or removing the service panel. If the pan is covered in sludge or heavily corroded, the pan can be even more difficult to find.

The condensate-pan drainage line runs to the external drainage line, which is often white PVC pipe that’s fitted near the condensate drain on the air handler service panel. The pipes dip in what is called a trap close to the coil end of the pipes.

The trap resembles a shallow U-shape. The bend lives up to its name as it traps any gas from your drainage lines. The AC condensate drainage pipe continues on after the trap section to the outdoors or to one of your structure’s other drain lines.

2. Understand the Issues With Mismanaged Condensate

Dark, wet environments are prime real estate for mold, mildew, bacteria, and pests to take up residence. Air conditioning coils produce a lot of condensate, and that moisture can wreak havoc on your AC system, your home, and your health if allowed to pool or overflow.

Drain pans and lines that aren’t sloped correctly cause condensate water to collect and pool in the AC drainage system. If the water stands in a pan or pipe, mold begins to grow. The mold and sludge in the drainage water eventually clog the drain line completely.

When an AC condensate drain line gets clogged, the drain pan doesn’t empty. Eventually, the pan overflows as condensate rises. If the AC system is located on an upper floor, your ceilings, walls, carpeting, and household furnishings can be flooded and ruined when a condensate pan overflows.

Overflowing condensate drainage can corrode parts of your AC system. Corrosion on internal parts of your AC system shorten the life of the AC unit and may affect the efficiency of your cooling system.

Mold on your drain pan and drain lines can enter air conditioning systems and evaporator coils. When mold disperses into your indoor air, it can trigger allergy symptoms and breathing issues. Mold on coils can restrict airflow and make the AC system less efficient.

3. Keep the Drain Lines Clear

One of the best ways a homeowner can keep their drain lines flowing is to run white vinegar through the part of the drain running outside of the air handler. If you have problems with excessive mold buildup in the condensate lines, flushing the pipes with vinegar can reduce your risks of a drain pan overflow.

Locate the condensate drain access point outside your home or near the indoor air handler enclosure. You should see a small vertical vent extension as part of the piping. The vent is located above the point where the line exits your air handler. Open the plug on top to access the drain lines.

Pour a cup or so of vinegar into the drain lines to loosen any clogs and kill mold. Flush the lines with fresh water, and ensure the water flows smoothly down and out of the drain lines. Always replace the cap on the condensate drain vent after you clean the lines.

4. Schedule Routine Inspection of AC Drainage

If you can’t access your condensate drainage pan, then you need an expert to find and examine the drainage system on your AC unit. Most HVAC professionals include condensate-drainage system inspection in their tune-up packages.

An HVAC professional can provide the following services if an inspection finds a problem:

  • Check drain lines for proper slope
  • Check for cracked drain pans or pipes
  • Check orientation of drainage system
  • Flush complete drainage system
  • Clean drain lines and pans
  • Replace or repair condensate-drainage systems

HVAC pros can also add agents to your AC drainage system to inhibit mold and algae growth in drain pans and drainage lines.

Schedule a springtime tune-up of your AC system by contacting Derek Sawyer’s Smart Energy Heating & Air today. We service, repair, and install AC systems for customers throughout California’s Central Valley.

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