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How to Know If Your Air Conditioner's Condensate Drainage System Needs Repairs or Updates

Your central air-conditioning system can produce up to 20 gallons per day of condensate, which is water drawn from the air inside your home. For attic-mounted air-handling units, the need to contain and drain this condensate is critical, and several measures must be in place to prevent damage to the structure of your house. If your home contains a central air-conditioning system, and you have never taken the time to inspect its condensate drainage components, then it is worth your time to take a look at your system and note whether it contains deficiencies in design or construction. Below are the essential components and what you should do if you discover any installation problems.

The components

An air conditioner is designed to not only cool the air but also, and just as importantly, remove moisture from the air. By lowering the interior humidity, you system makes your home feel more comfortable in hot weather. However, since the volume of condensate can be quite large in humid areas, air-conditioning manufacturers have devised drain systems to capture and remove this water before it causes harm. Properly installed systems contain the following parts.

Primary drain pipe - This component is designed to address the daily drainage needs of the central air-conditioning system and is routed through the exterior of the attic and discharges in a location outside the home. The discharge location must be visible to the homeowner for monitoring purposes, and in no circumstances should the discharge be routed into a wastewater pipe or other hidden locations. In addition, the primary drain pipe should contain a plumbing trap to maintain an airtight seal against outside air.

Condensate drip pan - If the primary drain pipe clogs, the condensate drip pan will provide a temporary storage location for water leaving the evaporator coil. This pan should be flat and large enough to cover the entire area beneath the evaporator coil. To prevent corrosion and leaking, the pan should be made from plastic, rubber, or a rust-resistant metal.

Secondary drain pipe - The secondary drainage pipe extends from the condensate drip pan and prevents overflows of the pan should the primary drain pipe become clogged. Like the primary drain, the secondary drain should be routed to its own individual discharge point and be monitorable.

Water detection and cutoff device - Though not required for every installation, a water detection and cutoff device is needed if your secondary drain cannot be routed to a visible location or if no drip pan can be installed. This device will shut down the air conditioner if it detects water inside the pan.

Signs of incorrect installation

There are occasions when the above equipment is incorrectly installed and will need repair or replacement to satisfy the local building-code requirements. In addition, lack of maintenance can also result in other problems. Here are a few common issues to look for.

Missing drain-pipe discharge outlets - One or both of the drain pipes are not routed to a visible location and are discharging to an unknown location. This situation prevents a homeowner from knowing if their drains are clogged and if water is backing up or overflowing.

Inappropriate discharge location - A drain pipe should discharge in an area where it will not cause erosion, mold, or bacterial growth or pose a slip hazard to persons.

Clogged drain pipes - Drain pipes can be vulnerable to a buildup of bacterial slime, which will clog the pipes completely if not periodically flushed with bleach.

Obtain professional help if needed

Should you discover that your air-conditioning system drainage isn't up to standards or needs repair, be sure to contact a licensed air-conditioning repair specialist who provides services for sewer and drain cleaning. Such a company should familiar with code requirements and know how to provide maximum protection for your home by using the right techniques and materials.