HVAC Maintenance Tips: Condensation Lines & Airflow
Posted by Will Housh on July 26
Summer is here, and your cooling system will be working heavily to keep your home comfortable over the next few months. The cooling process creates condensation – normally, this exits your system and home without any issues. Occasionally, issues with your drip pan or condensate drain lines may cause water to back up into your home or HVAC equipment.
Spotting HVAC Maintenance Condensation Issues
Water on the floor nearby your air handling unit/evaporator coil is a sign there is a problem with your cooling system’s condensation drain lines. The system will have a drip pan, which is typically located to the bottom of the unit. The drip pan connects to the condensate drain line, which carries water out of the home.
When the drip pan becomes full or clogged, or the condensate line is clogged, water can spill over the drip pan’s edges, onto the floor surrounding the unit. Another sign your condensate lines may be clogged is if no moisture is exiting outdoors.
Musty odors and increasing humidity inside your home are additional signs of a condensate drain system issue. If left untreated, this simple HVAC maintenance issue could lead to serious water damage inside your home.
What Causes this Problem?
Due to the moisture produced by the cooling process combined with airborne contaminants, mold and algae can form in the drip pan. The growth can clog the drip pan, or even rinse into the condensate drain lines causing a clog in the piping.
HVAC Maintenance: Clear Condensate Line Clogs
If you spot any of the tell-tale signs of a condensate line or drip pan clog, the average homeowner is more than capable of clearing simple clogs if confident. To clean your drip pan and condensate lines, follow these steps:
- Shut off power to your HVAC system. Turn it off at the thermostat as well as the breaker.
- Locate the drip pan, which is typically positioned underneath the interior air handling unit. You may need to remove a sheet metal panel to access it.
- If water is present in the drip pan, a clog is likely present in the line. Using a wet/dry vacuum or rags, remove all water from the drip pan.
- Remove the drip pan and clean away all mold, algae, and contamination with a mild soap.
- Using your wet/dry vacuum, remove clogs from the condensate drain line. At the exterior exit of the line, using your hand create a seal around the line and the vacuum hose. Run the vacuum for one minute, then inspect the canister for clogs. If the vacuum does not clear the clog, you may be able to run a flexible rubber tube through the lines to manually remove the clog. If you cannot free the clog or are not comfortable with these steps, call an HVAC maintenance professional.
- Clean the drain lines at the access point. This is usually a T-shaped vent which has a PVC cover. Remove the cover to access the drain. Using distilled vinegar or hot water with a mild dish soap, you can flush out the drain. Leave your solution to soak for 30 minutes, then rinse the lines with clean water. Someone should watch the exterior condensate line exit to ensure water moves through the lines freely.
When it comes to HVAC maintenance, how you maintain the areas surrounding your equipment can be just as important as the maintenance of the actual systems. Poor maintenance in the immediate areas surrounding your air conditioner or furnace could decrease system efficiency, damage components, and even put your family in danger. Follow these HVAC maintenance tips to protect your heating and cooling equipment.
- Keep the exterior condenser unit or heat pump clear of items. You should leave a clearance of at least two feet surrounding the unit. This will facilitate proper airflow, and allow access to the unit should repairs be required. Never install an enclosure directly against the unit. Outdoor items should never be stored surrounding the unit.
- Local building codes require gas furnaces and other gas appliances maintain a clearance from the floor and surrounding walls. Space should be left for many reasons: allow HVAC maintenance technicians access to the system, to improve airflow to the system, and to prevent combustible byproducts from building up in the surrounding area, which could lead to a fire. Furnace manufacturers note in their equipment installation guides how much clearance is necessary surrounding their system.
- Never store items directly next to your furnace. This can limit airflow to the unit, which decreases energy efficiency and cause damage to the system.
- Certain items should never be stored near a furnace, because they can cause a fire or combust. Combustible materials such as paint or gasoline should be kept in an entirely separate area. Clothing and other fabrics stored near a furnace can catch fire and limit airflow. Cat litter boxes should not be kept in furnace rooms, as ammonia fumes can cause corrosion of the furnace’s heat exchanger. Cleaning solutions should be stored outside the furnace room, in sealed containers.
Restricted airflow is another major problem for heating and cooling systems. Without proper airflow through the system, equipment can become overheated, stressed and forced to consume excessive energy, and it may not be possible to deliver the conditioned air you need in the home.
HVAC Maintenance Tips to Improve Airflow
Homeowners should perform HVAC maintenance monthly to ensure their systems have access to adequate airflow – it’ll improve your comfort and system efficiency. Here’s what to do:
- Inspect your air filter, changing it if needed. Most air filters should be changed about every 3 months, but during periods of heavy system use, such as summer and winter months, they may become clogged with contaminants sooner and require changing more frequently. Each month, take a look at your filter – if it’s covered in grey contamination, install a fresh one or clean your replaceable filter. Also, it’s best not to use air filters with a MERV rating of 13 or higher (such as HEPA filters) in residential HVAC systems – these powerful filters may actually restrict airflow through the system. A filter rated MERV 8 to 12 is ideal for superior contaminant removal in residential environments. For added contaminant control and air quality improvement, consider installing a whole home air purification system.
- Check all vents and grilles inside the home. No furniture, rugs, or other items should be placed on top or in front of them. All vent louvers should be set to open – if you wish to close off unused areas to save energy, installing a zoning system is a smarter solution. Your home’s HVAC system was designed to work optimally with all vents open – closing them can cause air to back up in the system, damaging HVAC components as well as ducting.
- During summer months, ensure your exterior condenser or heat pump has not become clogged with contaminants. It’s easy for grass clippings to blow up against and cover the fins of the unit, which will restrict air from moving through it. Vegetation growing around the unit can also cause airflow issues. Never store items around your cooling system components. If you wish to build a surround to disguise your equipment, leave proper clearance surrounding the unit to allow for air movement – at least 2 feet.
Duct system issues and ventilation problems may also stand in the way of your HVAC systems receiving adequate airflow. These are best handled by qualified HVAC maintenance professionals who can diagnose airflow issues and perform needed repairs or equipment installations.
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