HVAC – Cleaning Your Condensate Drain

April 25, 2017

You probably read my article on “Is your Air Conditioner running Efficiently“, there are a lot of good tips in that post as we near the air conditioning season. In this post I want to highlight the condensate drain (another one of those items that gets little respect or notice until it’s not working properly).

Looking at the picture with the blue box knife you will see a piece of 3/4 copper with all but about 1/4 inch opening left. This is what I found today as I replaced a condensate drain. I would have never figured this!! As with many HVAC installations, units may be changed out every 10 years or so, but how often is the condensate drain replaced or inspected? Granted, this will not impede the unit from making cold air, but it may leave an ugly damp spot on the ceiling or floor (depending on the location of the HVAC).  As it can back up and overflow.

 

HOW DOES A CONDENSATE DRAIN WORK: Lets first start by understanding  what the condensate drain does. In the process of the cooling the house, the evaporator coil inside the air handler unit (located in a closet, attic or basement) operates at a temperature that creates condensation on the cooling coil. The collected water from this process  has to drain off. The water drips off the evaporator and is  expelled through a drain pipe. Based on gravity and slope, the water is either released outside the house or into the sanitary drain pipes. This drain tube must stay clean of debris, otherwise it can back up and cause water to drain into the house damaging sheetrock and possibly the building structure. They only drain when the unit is running in AC mode. Visually seeing water dripping is not a good enough inspection as it could still be backed up.

HOW TO INSPECT THE CONDENSATE DRAIN:

Visually inspect the condensate drain for all the parts mentioned in this picture. Pouring a vinegar in the VENT and the pan will allow you to look for leaks and the rate of flow. Both locations should drain in a few seconds.

  • VENT: Should be open and clear.
  • PAN DRAIN: Should be open and clear. Should exit out of the house where visible. If you see water dripping from this drain pipe (at its exit), the primary condensate drain is probably stopped up.
  • DRAIN PAN: Resides under the HVAC unit and should be clear of debris and free of water. Rusted pans should be replaced. Collected water in this pan is an indication there may be a drain flow stoppage of the primary drain.
  • PRIMARY & PAN DRAIN: Both should have a slight downward slope to its destination. This will ensure the water can flow freely out of the house.

HOW TO CLEAN A CONDENSATE DRAIN: If the drain has never been cleaned, it would be best to use a Wet/Dry vacuum cleaner to attach to the pipe (at the end, outside the house) to suck out all the debris. Seal the vacuum cleaner hose to the drain pipe (furthest from the HVAC). Run the vacuum for about 5-10 minutes. In really bad cases, you may need to pour some vinegar down the drain to pull the gunk through the pipe while the vacuum is running. If necessary, you may need to repeat it until it shows to be running free and clear.Once you know it is clear pour a a gallon of vinegar down the drain once a year. That should keep it in good shape.

 


HVAC Ducts Reinsulating vs. Replacing

December 13, 2016

duct_sealing1If you have read any of my last articles on HVAC ducts you recognize that, like the HVAC units, the duct network is a system as well. In the past I was an advocate of reinsulating the existing ducts over replacing them because of the cost. However, I am changing my tune as I continue to see more and more duct systems that were either so poorly installed from the get go or they have been patched, damaged or added to (incorrectly)  they weren’t worth saving.

On my most recent project, I found the return air plenum was sucking return air right off the dirt floor in the crawl space. Some people might say “it just smells like an old house”; trust me, even an old house shouldn’t smell musty if the system is in good condition.

TOSHIBA Exif JPEG

For the most part, properly installed ridged system can be superior, but if not, they stink. One of the biggest problems with ridged duct systems are: They are ridged! Just like the biggest problem with flexible ducts are; they are flexible!  As with any house construction there are lots of obstructions that have to be dealt with. The flexible ducts are great for these applications as they can be easily routed around structural beams. However, all turns and bends should be gradual and smooth. No kinks or sharp turns.

One of the most disappointing things I see in residential construction is what I call “the lack of trade respect”. Think of it like fighting siblings, the older brother is always going to pick on the younger brother, just cause he can.  Time and time again, I find shoddy work that is caused by a sibling trade.  In a  recent remodel project, we found that the HVAC contractor purposely removed several supporting beams because: they were in his way. In turn, it was left that way and didn’t show up until the roof was replaced some 40 years later. The roofers couldn’t re-deck the roof because of 6 split rafters, in other words, the roof was caving in. Admittedly, the workers are long gone but the negative effect of their work lives own.  The rafters had to be rebuilt and purlins had to be replaced. Though our investigation, it was obvious that the HVAC tech removed them so he could have a straight path for his ridged duct.  Negatively impact the integrity of the house was trumped by his laziness or willingness to cut corners. As with most attic or crawl space work, there is no one checking their work.

newhvac-duct

New Duct system installed using flexible ducting

Its not uncommon to find a 50 year old house that has had new HVAC units installed multiple times but the ducting is still 50 years old. Granted, when an HVAC unit fails to work, the problem is the units not the ducting. As the homeowner it is easy to just have the units replaced and leave the ducting as is since the new ducting can be as expensive as the unit itself. Unfortunately you can easily be giving up some of the  efficiency gained by replacing the units. To learn more about “Improving the Efficiency of Your Duct System“, I have attached a link to a paper written for the US Department of Energy by Brookhaven National Laboratory. After reading the article and you realize it is time to replace the ducting, look to schedule the work in off-peak months. You will probably get a little better deal and a lot better job.


Seasonal Reminder Summer 2016

August 1, 2016

169

Sorry for the delay in the Summer reminder posts. I tend to forget the official 1st day of summer, but start remembering it once we start getting full weeks of 100 degree days. Up to that point, I continue to bask in the spring. So, summer is formally if not officially already here!   This seasonal reminder is more about making sure everything continues to work well through the stress and strain of the summer months more than anything. If you live near me, getting these things done before 10 AM in the morning is the best time of the day, otherwise you may wait till after 6 PM or so (stay hydrated; regardless).  If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out.
  2. 100_0233HVAC Outdoor Unit: We did this in the spring and it’s good to do it again as vegetation has been growing through the spring months. Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 feet of clearance around the unit. Airborne particles generated by the blooming of trees and flowers can easily show up around the air conditioning condenser. Take your water hose and wash down the outside coils. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  3. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  4. Water Heaters: Make a visual inspection of the water heater. Look for dripping water and rust stains. Look at the exhaust flue to ensure it is still sealed. If its time to drain the tank or replace the anode, check the link for more details.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Even though we performed this maintenance during the spring, yard work and vegetation growth can cause some additional sprinkler maintenance. Exercise the system (again). Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by, odd spray patterns, missing heads, pooling water and brown spots.  Replace or repair the heads. Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks is the first of the series and covers the inspection, leak detection, repairs and tips in more detail.
  6. 100_0503Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  They are all looking for cool locations and possible water. If you are not opposed to using perimeter bug spray, this is a good time.
  7. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up. “Water Leaks”, cover this item too.
  8. Appliances: Use a hand-held vacuum cleaner to clear the dust bunnies from around all appliances such as washers, dryers and  dish washers. Pull you refrigerator out from the wall and do the same. If it’s within your skill set, turn off the unit, pull the back cover off,  and vacuum out the condenser coils and all the dirt around the fan.
  9. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Gutters, culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.
  10. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. With tree limbs heavy with leaves, seed pods, fruits and nuts, you may have some limbs that are drooping on your electrical service lines.
  11. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  12. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly.
  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out.
  2. 100_0233HVAC Outdoor Unit: We did this in the spring and it’s good to do it again as vegetation has been growing through the spring months. Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 feet of clearance around the unit. Airborne particles generated by the blooming of trees and flowers can easily show up around the air conditioning condenser. Take your water hose and wash down the outside coils. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  3. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  4. Water Heaters: Make a visual inspection of the water heater. Look for dripping water and rust stains. Look at the exhaust flue to ensure it is still sealed. If its time to drain the tank or replace the anode, check the link for more details.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Even though we performed this maintenance during the spring, yard work and vegetation growth can cause some additional sprinkler maintenance. Exercise the system (again). Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by, odd spray patterns, missing heads, pooling water and brown spots.  Replace or repair the heads. Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks is the first of the series and covers the inspection, leak detection, repairs and tips in more detail.
  6. 100_0503Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  They are all looking for cool locations and possible water. If you are not opposed to using perimeter bug spray, this is a good time.
  7. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up. “Water Leaks”, cover this item too.
  8. Appliances: Use a hand-held vacuum cleaner to clear the dust bunnies from around all appliances such as washers, dryers and  dish washers. Pull you refrigerator out from the wall and do the same. If it’s within your skill set, turn off the unit, pull the back cover off,  and vacuum out the condenser coils and all the dirt around the fan.
  9. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Gutters, culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.
  10. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. With tree limbs heavy with leaves, seed pods, fruits and nuts, you may have some limbs that are drooping on your electrical service lines.
  11. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  12. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly.