It's common knowledge that your plumbing pipes can spring a leak for variety of reasons, but you don't expect your HVAC system to leak like a sieve. If and when that happens, it can create a mess that could prove expensive as well as time-consuming to clean up. The following not only explores the reasons why your HVAC system leaks water, but also ways you can pinpoint leaks and stop them in their tracks.
Understanding the Causes
Whenever your HVAC system cools your home, it also dehumidifies the surrounding air to an extent. This causes water vapor in the air to condense into liquid form, which eventually collects in a metal or plastic drip pan located underneath the evaporator. The water remains in the pan until it eventually drains out through a PVC drain line. The drain line is usually connected to a nearby floor drain or, in other cases, it could simply route to an outdoor drainage area.
Any problem in the drainage system could cause the water to spill out of the HVAC system, where it could end up on the floor or wind up leaking into the furnace below on certain central HVAC system designs. There are a number of issues that could cause this to happen:
- The drain lines are clogged up with dirt and debris, causing the water to back up within the drip pan and eventually overflow the pan.
- Mold and algae growth is blocking the drain outlet or growing within the drain itself, preventing the water from leaving the drip pan normally.
- The PVC drain pipe may be broken or maladjusted, allowing water to seep through and leak out of the pipe.
- The drip pan may be broken. Because drip pans are made from non-stainless metal, rust and corrosion could have left microscopic holes in the pan's surface.
- The condensate line trap (also known as the P-trap) might not be installed properly.
Fixing the Problem
Before you can pinpoint the source of your HVAC water leak, first you'll need to clean up the existing spill. A heavy-duty wet/dry shop vacuum can not only help you get rid of any water you happen to find around your HVAC unit, but it also makes it easier to remove excess water and debris from the drip pan later on. Don't forget to make sure your HVAC system's main power is switched off before doing any work.
Next, you'll want to rule out any clogs as the source of your water leak. You can also use your shop vacuum to suck up clogs, along with any dirt, debris or algae you happen to encounter within the drip pan and drain line. For stubborn clogs, you may need to carefully work them loose with a plumber's snake. Scrub away any leftover debris, mold or algae with a soft-bristle brush and some mild detergent.
Finally, you can take a close look at the drip pan and drain lines. Check the drain line for cracks and loose fittings. Small cracks can be sealed with a small amount of epoxy glue. However, you may need to replace the entire line if there's a large crack or a large chunk of pipe missing. You'll also want to check the drip pan for cracks, as well as rust and corrosion.
Taking Preventative Steps
As the old saying goes, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." There are plenty of steps you can take to prevent water leaks from happening to your HVAC system. For starters, you can add an overflow switch to your drip pan. This device turns off your HVAC system to prevent water in the drip pan from overflowing if there happens to be a blockage in the drain line. You can also prevent water leaks by adding preventative tablets to help curtail algae and mildew growth within the drip pan and drain lines.
Last but not least, you should have your HVAC technician take a look at your system on an annual basis. Through a yearly inspection, your HVAC technician can spot and take care of drainage issues that would otherwise cause water leaks later on. So for more tips and professional assistance, contact local HVAC companies, like Bishop Plumbing, Heating and Cooling.