How Your Air Conditioner Works - Part 7

What started as a simple “get-to-know-your-AC” has now evolved into a multi-part informational blog. We here at GAMA Air started what we called Air Conditioning 101 with the goal of helping our friends and neighbors in and around Beverly Hills, Culver City, Mar Vista, Miracle Mile, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Marina Del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Bel Air, Westwood, Downtown Los Angeles, Vernon, Huntington Park, Sherman Oaks, Encino to be educated about the most expensive, and possible important, appliance in their home: Their central air conditioning system.

Now we are up to Part 7. Here’s a sum up of the topics up till now: Part 1 had basic theory of cooling your home. Part 2 brought up the role of the thermostat. Part 3 mentioned the indoor unit and the outdoor unit. Part 4 dug deeper into how refrigerant ties those two together. And most recently in Part 5 of AC 101 we explained the process of moving heat from inside your home to outside your home. Part 6 dug into the issue of moisture. And now we explain what happens to the moisture that your AC is removing from the air.

Do you remember in Part 6 the image of an ice-cold drink on a hot muggy day? And what happens on the surface of the glass or can? Moisture condenses on the outside of the bottle and starts dripping down, right? And the more humid the day, the more water. If you are outside with that ice-cold drink, you will end up with a puddle under your drink even if you are using a coaster.

Ok, now with that image freshly in mind, think again about that coil in the air handler unit of your home’s central AC system. Warm moist air is being blown across a chilled metal coil. Just like the bottle or can in our example, moisture will be condensing on that coil and dribbling down. And that coil is much, much bigger than even the biggest of beer or pop cans. So, where is all that moisture going? In the case of your drink bottle, you might put a coaster under it to protect your table or counter. But what protection is in place for all that moisture inside the air conditioning system inside your house?

At this point you may be panicking, thinking that you have never ever even seen a drain, much less checked to make sure if it is okay. Well, if you are in the habit of having an annual air conditioning system safety inspection and tune-up, then you’re okay. The condensate drain is such a critical part of an AC system that it is always something that a professional HVAC service technician will be checking.

Inside the indoor unit there is a drain pan under the coil to catch the water dripping off of the coil. That drain pan has a specially designed drain pipe which allows the condensation to drain out of the unit, out of your house, and outside. Due to modern building codes there is likely a backup pan or back up drain also. Where do they go?

The primary drain is usually routed to the easiest point outside your house. However, in older homes it is possible it is connected to the house plumbing drain system, or if the unit is in a crawl space then it may be simply draining under the house. If the indoor unit is in a basement, then there will also be a unit about the size of a large loaf of bread with a small reservoir and a pump to get the water up and out of the house.

If there is a backup drain, then ideally it will be routed to direct the water out of your house in an obvious location. The idea behind that is to alert you that something is wrong. You will see water dribbling or pouring out of a small drain pipe that is usually always dry. That’s a sign the primary drain has a problem and now the back-up drain is doing its job. However, that also means there’s a problem which should be addressed to avoid potential costly water damage to your home.

What should you do? If you are concerned and need immediate help, give us a call at (310) 651-6936 or fill out our online form to schedule a visit, if it isn’t urgent.

Is there a way you can fix that yourself? Or in the case that you don’t think there is a problem, can you clean and maintain the condensate drain yourself? We’ll cover that in an upcoming blog post, so come back to this site for more information.

Need help with a question you have? Visit our Ask an Expert page and get a quick answer from the resident expert here at GAMA Air.

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