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Say No to Clogs: Understanding Common AC Drain Line Problems

Say No to Clogs: Understanding Common AC Drain Line Problems

Even though the heat and humidity are still a few months out, many homeowners start prepping now to ensure the AC stands ready when they flip the thermostat from HEAT to COOL. How do you get your AC ready for those summer scorchers? Changing air filters, clearing debris away from your outside unit, and cleaning the coils and fins make a great start. What most folks don’t realize is AC maintenance should also include inspecting and cleaning the AC drain line.

If you haven’t had time to schedule AC maintenance, your system will give clues you have a drainage line problem. Read today’s post and explore 6 common issues that indicate dirty, clogged, or malfunctioning drainage lines.

Locating Your AC Drain Line

It’s time to get up close and personal with your AC unit and find the AC drain line. Even if you’ve noticed it before, rest assured, every central air conditioning system has a drainage line.

Also called the condensate drain, the AC drainage line plays an essential role in removing condensation. The condensation, in this case, comes from the evaporator coils.

Usually, you’ll find the drain line outside near your condenser unit.

First, find the access, which is a capped vertical PVC pipe. Look for it on the inside unit near the air handler. Outside, close to the condenser unit, you’ll find the runoff, which is also a PVC pipe.

Since we’re talking about preventing clogs, let’s take a minute and talk about them.

What’s a Clog?

You’re familiar with plumbing clogs. Hair, soap, food waste, and often, small toys cause backups. Plumbers find all kinds of gunk and debris when they unclog a plumbing system.

AC drain lines clog due to a backup of debris as well, but it's not usually food particles or kid's toys. Leaves and other yard debris can block the drain line.

Another contributor to clogs is condensation.

Condensation occurs primarily because the evaporator coil stays wet as it wrings moisture out of incoming air. Dust particles in the air combine with condensation and turn to mud. The mess then gets washed down into the drain line, where it eventually forms a debris clog.

Sometimes you can DIY, but for things other than simple clogs, it's best to call your HVAC specialist. Next, we’ll look at the clues from the AC system that indicate you have a clogged drainage line.

1. Your AC Shuts Down

New air conditioners often come with a sensor designed to detect water backups. The sensor will shut down the system if necessary. If your AC suddenly powers down, look for water leaking.

On a hot, humid day in Missouri, your air conditioner can pull in over 50 gallons of water from the air inside your home. That water (condensation) drips into a collection pan and then flows through the AC drain line.

If you find leaking water, your next step is to look for a blockage in the drainage line. You can try clearing the clog on your own, but if you’re not successful, it’s time to call your HVAC company.

Ignoring clogs can lead to water damage to your home.

2. Look for Dripping Water

Have you noticed dripping or standing water near your furnace or the evaporator unit for the air conditioner?

Take a minute and inspect your utility closet or furnace room. Look for water leaks! If you find water, take care not to mistake it for an issue with your water heater instead of your AC system.

Once you’re confident you have a clogged drainage line, you can attempt to suck the clog out using a wet/dry vac.

3. Check the Drip Pan

Where does the condensation from the evaporator coils end up? Condensation first drains into a drip pan. Then, the drainage line carries it to the runoff.

Since the drip pan acts as a reservoir, it’s reasonable to expect water to flow into it. The problem comes when the water stands in the drip pan. Standing water is a clue that you have a clogged line.

While it’s tempting to ignore standing water in a drip pan, don’t do it.

If you ignore the issue, you may end up with mechanical problems and AC failure.

4. Does Your House Feel Muggy?

Your AC is supposed to keep the humidity levels at a safe and healthy level inside your home. When the indoor air feels muggier than usual, it’s a sign.

Excessive humidity could mean you have a drainage line clog. You could also have a faulty pump. Check for the clog first since it’s a more straightforward issue to fix.

When you contact your HVAC tech and complain about unusually high humidity levels, they will look first at the drainage line and clean it if necessary.

Humidity isn’t a friend in this case as it can contribute to the development of algae or mold. Once you have a mold or algae colony, the drainage line may not work efficiently. If it’s not removed, you’ll end up with a clogged line.

5. Your Nose Knows

If you’ve lived in Missouri for even one summer, you know about mold and musty odors. They go together and are prevalent inside homes.

If you find mold growing in the drip pan or anywhere else near your air conditioner, it means you have more water in the area than you should. It could indicate a clogged line.

When you smell mold anywhere in your home, it’s often due to a backed-up AC drainage line. How can odor from an AC unit stink up an entire house? The smell can spread throughout your home via the ductwork.

Cleaning the drainage line removes dirt, algae, and mold, and doing so should eliminate the odor.

6. Have You Noticed Water Damage?

Remember, we mentioned how ignoring clogs in your AC system could lead to water damage? As part of the routine checks of your home, keep an eye out for signs you have excessive moisture inside.

The musty odor we just talked about is one sign you have a drainage line problem, but visible water damage can also indicate a clogged or damaged line.

Calling your HVAC company can prevent further damage to your home, your personal belongings, and your cooling system.

Window AC Units and Drain Lines

Not every home has central air conditioning. If you've installed window units in your home, you may need to service the drainage system.

Newer window air conditioning units don't use drains or drain lines. Instead, they create condensation, which drips into a pan at the bottom of the unit. Once condensation builds up in the drip pan, the fan sling throws it up against the unit's condenser.

Older window AC units have a drain hole, which you can usually locate either underneath or on the side of the unit.

If you suspect a clog, you can usually take care of it without calling for service. Try poking a thin wire through the drain hole move it back and forth. This is often enough to clear the clog.

AC Drainage Line Clog Prevention Tips

We talk a lot about preventative maintenance for HVAC systems. You can do two things to prevent a clogged drain line in your AC.

First, schedule routine maintenance with your HVAC technician. When they service your system, most techs include cleaning the drain line.

If they detect a clog, they'll blow it out using air pressure. Afterward, your tech should clean and sterilize the drip pan. Then, they can drain the line to ensure you don't have residual algae.

Second, change your air filter. Such a small thing to do, but a dirty HVAC filter releases a higher amount of dirt and bacteria into your drip pan. This adds to grime buildup and eventually will clog the AC drainage lines.

If you're now wondering how often you need to change your air filter, there's a short answer and a long answer.

In short, change the filter when it looks dirty. During the cooling season, you'll want to check your filter every month or so. You may not need to change it each month, but at least inspect it.

Your HVAC system manufacturer may suggest a different schedule for changing filters. Also, if you smoke, have pets, or suffer from respiratory conditions, you may want to change the filter once a month.

Ready to Schedule AC Service?

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning a few new things about your AC and feel more prepared to deal with one of the more common problems associated with cooling systems—a clog in the AC drain line.

While you can do a few maintenance tasks and reduce the chance of clogs, your HVAC tech will also inspect the AC drainage line during your annual HVAC maintenance appointment.

If you need to schedule drain line cleaning, routine maintenance, or any other HVAC service, contact us today!

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