5 Red Flags to Identify When Your HVAC Leaks Water (Homeowner's Guide)

January 11, 2021

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Is an air conditioner supposed to leak water? Homeowners and even renters should have a basic understanding of an HVAC system, so you know what’s normal and to be expected versus when to schedule repairs. Homeowners and renters should also know if it’s safe to use the AC or furnace and when it should be kept off until it’s fixed, and when those leaks are dangerous and damaging to a home!

If your air conditioner leaks or drips water, check out 5 red flags that might indicate it needs repairs, as well as some signs that the AC might be leaking coolant or need other immediate fixes. If you can't get to the root of the problem, it may be time to call an AC repair professional. Look for these 5 indicators:

  1. Damaged condensation pump
  2. Clogged condensate drain
  3. Check the drain pan
  4. Clogged or dirty furnace filter
  5. Refrigerant leaks

As with all home repairs, leave any work outside your area of expertise to the pros. It’s also important to mind your safety when working on home appliances; switch off all circuits, wear protective eyewear and thick gloves, and keep children and pets away from those appliances when working!

Is an Air Conditioner Supposed to Leak Water?

hvac unit

To better identify dangerous water leaks or drips, note how an air conditioner works. A central air conditioner pulls air from interior spaces and directs it over an evaporator coil. This evaporator removes heat from that air; as it does, condensation forms, just like condensation on a glass of cold water in a warm room.

That condensation runs down to a drip pan which directs it to a condensate drain line, which runs to the outside of a home. That drain line might often have a small puddle of water at its end, as it drains that water away from the home.

While this small bit of water outside the condensate drain line is normal, a home’s air conditioner shouldn’t be dripping water elsewhere, and especially not down walls or over ceiling tiles! If this happens, check out these 5 red flags that might cause that condensation to back up and lead to water leaks and drips inside the home. Call for regular AC maintenance services so this doesn't happen to your HVAC system!

 

1. Damaged condensation pump

If an air conditioner is installed in a home’s basement or lower levels, it will have what is called condensation or condensate pump. That pump pushes condensation from the air conditioner condenser coil and drain pan to the drain pipe and out of the home.

If that pump is broken, that water might back up and start to leak inside the home. Replacing the pump is a job best left to air conditioning contractors, to ensure it gets done properly.

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2. Clogged condensate drain

As with any other pipe in your home, if the air conditioner condensate drain pipe gets clogged or blocked, that condensation or water will back up and start to drip elsewhere. A condensate drain pipe might get clogged with dust, pet hair, dirt, mold or algae, or just sludge!

A condensate drain might also back up and lead to leaks in the home if its end opening is blocked. Check that drain line regularly and ensure there aren’t any twigs, leaves, and other debris blocking it from emptying properly.

If the clog is inside the pipe, you can use a wet-dry vacuum to clean it out. An air conditioning contractor will also have special tools and equipment that he or she uses to clean out that drain pipe, allowing it to empty properly and avoiding clogs and backups.

3. Check the drain pan

That condensate drain line is connected to a drain pan that catches all that condensation, as said. Over time, that pan can rust or suffer cracks, chips, and other such damage. It might also get jostled out of place during repairs. If your home air conditioner leaks or drips water, check that pan for rust or other damage and note if it needs replacing.

4. Clogged or dirty furnace filter

ac filter

When the home’s air conditioner pulls air from interior spaces, cools it, and sends it back into those spaces, that air first runs over the home’s furnace filter. When the filter is dirty, blocked, or simply low-quality and doesn’t filter air as it should, that evaporator coil gets too cold so that ice crystals form.

When those ice crystals melt, they can overflow that drain pan or produce more water than the drain pipe can manage, so that the water backs up and drips into the home. Homeowners can change the furnace filter easily and note if this stops that drip; continue to change the filter every month while the HVAC system is in use, to keep it clean and clog-free.

5. Refrigerant leaks

Low refrigerant levels in a home’s air conditioner will lower the pressure in the system, so that the evaporator coil freezes over, just as it will when the furnace filter is dirty or clogged. As it freezes over, ice crystals form and then melt and overwhelm the drain pan or pipe.

Common signs indicating a refrigerant leak include:

  • The air conditioner pushes lukewarm air through the home’s vents.
  • Hissing sounds from the unit.
  • Puddles around the compressor unit.

Air conditioner refrigerant doesn’t “burn up” or evaporate, so leaks indicate damage to the AC unit itself. If you do suspect a refrigerant leak, call an air conditioning contractor for needed repairs and a recharge.

FYI: Other Common Causes of AC Water Leaks

  • Over time, dust and grime might build up on the evaporator coils. When this happens, condensation might not run down to the drain pan and connected line, but get trapped on the evaporator and then drip onto the floor.
  • Evaporator coils are insulated, which also helps condensation run down those coils to the drain pan. Damaged insulation can result in that condensation dripping onto the floor instead.
  • If the drain line becomes disconnected from the pan, condensation caught in the pan might then drip onto the floor rather than through the drain line.

Leaking Air Conditioner: Could it be Dangerous?

Water drips are not necessarily dangerous but they can result in costly damage to your home! Drywall and wood framing both absorb water very quickly, leading to wood rot, splintering, cracks, and other damage. You might also notice some unsightly stains along walls and ceilings.

Water drips and leaks also encourage mold growth, which can spread quickly. Black mold is unhealthy and often expensive to clean and remove, and can also mean wood rot and other damage.

When leaked refrigerant evaporates and turns to gas, this can be dangerous as that gas is very hazardous to your health. If you suspect your home’s air conditioner has a refrigerant leak, call for AC repairs as soon as possible.

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Should I Turn Off the AC If It’s Leaking?

It’s often best to avoid using an AC if it’s leaking and call an air conditioner contractor for immediate repairs instead.

  • Leaking water risks water damage and mold growth, as said. The more water that leaks and are then absorbed by drywall and wood framing, the greater the risk of costly damage to your home! Water leaks also lead to unsightly water stains along walls and ceilings, which are often difficult to clean and might need fresh paint to cover.
  • The more you use an air conditioner with a clogged drain line, the more dirt, and sludge that builds up in the line; in turn, it might get even more costly to clean and repair.
  • A frozen evaporator can cause the entire unit to seize up and outright fail, which means a costly replacement! To avoid this risk, don’t use the AC if you even suspect ice crystals forms on the evaporator coils.

It’s also vital for a homeowner to remember that evaporated refrigerant is dangerous and unhealthy. If you suspect a refrigerant leak, avoid using the air conditioner and call a repair contractor as soon as possible, to keep that leak from getting worse and avoiding evaporation as much as possible.

How to Avoid Water Leaks & Other Common AC Damage

A homeowner can often help avoid water leaks and other air conditioning damage with a few simple tune-up and maintenance tips. One vital step is to ensure that the drain line is always clear where it empties; use a pipe cleaner to remove any debris building up along its end and just gently brush away leaves, twigs, grass clippings, and other debris around the pipe itself.

If you can access the air conditioner evaporator safely, check that drain pain every year or twice per year, for signs of corrosion and other damage. If you notice rust or dents, have that pain changed as soon as possible. Changing the furnace filter every month when the HVAC system in use also helps reduce wear and tear and protect the evaporator coil, as said.

One last but very important way to keep your home’s air conditioner functioning properly while avoiding otherwise unnecessary repairs is to schedule regular AC maintenance or tune-ups from a local HVAC contractor. Air conditioning maintenance typically includes evaporator cleaning, checking the drain line and pan for damage or blockage, and checking refrigerant levels. These simple tasks help avoid water leaks while ensuring your air conditioner is ready to perform as expected!

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A Word from Our HVAC Team

Pearland AC Repair Pros is proud to offer this information to our readers and we hope you find it helpful when it comes to maintaining your home’s air conditioner. If you need more information about if an air conditioner is supposed to leak or need AC repairs in Pearland TX, give us a call! We provide full-service air conditioning tune-ups, repairs, maintenance, and installation and stand behind all our work with an industry-leading warranty you can trust.

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