Condensate Pump Leaking? (How To Fix and Prevent It)
Your air conditioner, whether it is a small window unit or a large central unit, is a complicated piece of equipment. There are many components within it that, should they stop working, can derail the entire unit from working properly.
From time to time, the condensate pump in specific will begin leaking water. In most cases, the condensate pump can become dirty or clogged, failing to do its job effectively. The result is a wet mess in and around your air conditioner.
What is a Condensate Pump?
If you are unfamiliar with the inner components of an air conditioner, that can be a helpful place to start. The condensate pump is a type of pump that takes in the water produced by the HVAC system while heating or cooling. The water can come from steam, refrigeration, or a condensing boiler furnace.
The job of the pump is to remove the excess condensation produced. When the pump is dirty, clogged, or malfunctioning, it can’t do its job properly. That is what creates the excess condensation or leaking that you may see.
The Parts in a Condensate Pump and How to Take One Apart
If you have previous HVAC experience or are feeling adventurous, you can take the condensate pump apart to clean it. The condensate pump has a top, where all the parts are, and a bottom where the water collects.
The top has a few things running into it and out of it. Things like the discharge valve and hose, the wiring, the intel port, and the casing for the motor. There is an additional port where you can see the reservoir in the bottom.
To take it apart:
- Unplug the pump. Start by unplugging the pump to cut the power. Then, disconnect both the drain line and the intake, using a flathead screwdriver to open the unit. Open it at the slot that is between the two main components.
- Check the reservoir. Look in the reservoir to see if there is any debris, algae, or dirt on the inside. In extreme cases, you may find a dead critter in there.
- Examine the other components. Cleaning will come later. For now, just check the various components in the top compartment to ensure that they are intact. Look for any cracks or noticeable wear and tear that could keep the components from working properly.
Cleaning the Condensate Pump
Keep in mind that if there is noticeable damage to the pump, it will need to be replaced. Otherwise, it will simply keep leaking and you will be back at square one. If it is simply a matter of the pump being dirty, you can easily clean the unit.
- Check the water float. The water float gauges how much water there is and sends a signal to the pump to turn on. It should move freely; clean out any gunk if it sticks.
- Check the impeller basket. Like the water float, the impeller basket, which is in a round shape and has slots, should be clean and free of debris. Give it a good wipe down if it looks particularly dirty.
- Check the discharge valve. You can take the discharge valve out to inspect it. If it is dirty, use something like a small bristle cleaner or a cotton swab to remove any of the debris, dust, or dirt that can collect on it.
- Put it back together. When you are certain that all of the parts are in good shape and have been cleaned properly, it is time to put everything back together. Reconnect all of the pieces and don’t forget to plug the pump back in. If you don’t, it will simply flood when the reservoir gets full.
If My Condensate Pump is Fine Why is My Air Conditioner Leaking Water?
So, let’s say that you have gone through the methods above and are confident that the condensate pump is fine. The problem is that your air conditioner is still leaking. If it isn’t the condensate pump, then what is the problem?
Unfortunately, there are a number of other things that can potentially cause your air conditioner to leak. After eliminating the condensate pump as a problem, you will need to check the most likely causes of the leak.
Drain Line Clogged
The next most likely culprit is a clogged drain line. Just like the condensate pump when the condensate drain pipe is clogged or obstructed, it can cause the drain pan to overflow. This is probably the most common reason for leaking in an air conditioner unit.
Without proper maintenance, drain lines can get clogged up with rust, dirt, debris, and algae. It is important to schedule regular maintenance to ensure that all of the necessary components of the air conditioner are in good condition and free of debris.
Drain Line Disconnected
It can sometimes be as simple as a loose or interrupted connection. It could be due to an improper installation or it can be due to the vibrations caused by the air conditioner over time. Whatever the case, a connection can loosen and the drain pipe can disconnect from the air conditioner.
The leak can depend on whether or not the primary or secondary pipe is the impacted point. It also depends where the air conditioner system is in your home. Simply tightening the connection should be good enough to stop the leak should this be the issue.
Clogged Air Filter
For both the furnace and air conditioner, a dirty or clogged air filter can be the cause of a great many issues. The air filter is in place to filter out pollutants in the air. When it becomes clogged with dust and dirt, it becomes ineffective and can result in other issues.
Changing out the air filter monthly, or bi-monthly at worst, is recommended to prevent filter-related issues. Moreover, a dirty filter can lower the air quality in your home. Breathing in dust and dander frequently can have long-term respiratory impacts.
Condensate Drain Pan
In your air conditioner is a component known as the condensate drain pan. This pan catches any condensation runoff created within the air conditioner. The warm air that gets sucked into the unit (before it is turned into cool air) causes the moisture to evaporate.
When the drain pan is either clogged up with debris or cracked, it can leak water into the rest of the air conditioner. There is no repairing the condensate drain pan; it will need to be replaced entirely.
How Do I Avoid Damage from a Leaking Air Conditioner?
Depending on how long the leaking is allowed to persist, water buildup can cause major damage over time. That is why it is important to take measures to prevent leaking and the water damage that can follow.
- Secondary drain line. Having a backup to the main drain line is important, particularly if you have the air handler in the attic. This way, if the primary fails, the secondary can pick up the slack and prevent leaks.
- Check ductwork. One of the lesser-known culprits is ductwork that has not been properly insulated. Make sure that your ductwork is ready to stand up against leaks, saving you from repairing damage in other areas of your home.
- Keep the condensate pump clean. The condensate pump in particular can experience mildew and mold growth. You can prevent that by flushing it every now and again with a solution made of 1-part water, 1-part bleach.
- Add a safety pan. You can also add a safety pan directly underneath the air conditioner unit to catch any of the overflow from your drain pan. Consider a safety measure should the condensate drain pan crack over overflow.
Maintenance is Essential
When it comes to the long-term health of your HVAC system, scheduling regular maintenance is of the utmost importance. Maintenance may seem like an unnecessary cost, but it can actually save you money in the long-term.
Prevent major repairs. By scheduling routine maintenance, you can spot problems while they are still small. Instead of being blindsided by major repairs that can cost major bucks, nip small repairs in the bud.
Clean the HVAC system. It is important that you take the time, maybe once a month or so, to pop open the cover of your furnace and air conditioner to perform a cleaning. In most instances, a shop vac should do the job. After all, you just need to get rid of the loose dust and debris that can permeate the inner workings of the cabinet. If there is stubborn dirt and debris, soap and water should do the trick.
Replace the air filter. Finally, it cannot be overstated how important it is that you either clean or replace the air filter. Industry standards recommend that the filter be changed monthly; bi-monthly at worst. It is perhaps the easiest bit of maintenance that you can perform as you can pop out the old filter and replace it with a new one. A clean filter is a great way to prevent other problems from springing up.
Ryan Womeldorf has more than a decade of experience writing. He loves to blog about construction, plumbing, and other home topics. Ryan also loves hockey and a lifelong Buffalo sports fan.
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