Absorbing heat energy from the air causes your air conditioner's evaporator coil to produce a substantial amount of water. While this function is essential to controlling your home's humidity levels, it also means that the water needs someplace to go. Window units can easily drain this water outside, but a split-system central air conditioner is slightly more complicated.
In most cases, you should never need to worry about the water your air conditioner produces, but there's no such thing as a trouble-free HVAC component. Like any other part of your home's air conditioner, the drainage system can develop problems and even fail. Since drainage issues can potentially damage your home, it's essential to recognize and address them quickly.
How Do Drainage Systems Work?
Your evaporator coil is the component responsible for transferring heat from the air in your home to the air conditioner's refrigerant loop. Moisture in the air condenses on the cold coils, helping to dehumidify your home. This condensate will continually drip off the coils, falling into a drip tray inside your air handler cabinet.
Drip trays typically aren't sealed. Instead, these relatively simple pans act like funnels, directing water that falls from the evaporator into a drainage pipe. The precise design of drainage systems can vary substantially between homes and depend heavily on your local building codes. Newer installations typically p-traps, vent connections, and a discharge to a sanitary waste line.
Drainage is essential for several reasons. Without adequate drainage, your system won't function correctly. Excessive water in the air handler will prevent the system from dehumidifying, causing your blower to move humid air throughout your home. Additionally, overflowing water can damage other components in your air handler, promote mold and bacteria, and generally cause a big mess.
Why Do Drainage Systems Fail?
Drainage system failures often come in two flavors: overflows and blockages. In the latter case, debris or contaminants can sometimes fill the p-trap in the drainage line. With the line blocked, moisture from the evaporator can back up into the air handler cabinet or overflow. This clog can cause your evaporator coils to freeze, stopping your system from functioning or even causing additional damage.
On the other hand, drainage problems may be a symptom rather than the root cause. If you have low refrigerant or a refrigerant restriction, your evaporator coils can become too cold. The cold coils will cause moisture to freeze, eventually creating a large ice block in your air handler. A frozen coil will eventually shut down, but the thawing ice can overwhelm the drip tray and cause a leak.
In either case, acting quickly once you notice a problem is critical. Even if the leak isn't likely to drip directly on expensive components, excess moisture in the air handler unit can cause corrosion and other problems. Calling an HVAC tech to check and evaluate the problem will get your system running correctly again while helping you avoid moisture-related issues in the future.
For more information about AC repair, contact a local company, like Carolina Air Care.