All air conditioning systems remove humidity from the air. As the air around the evaporator coil cools, moisture condenses out of the air and onto the coil. In humid environments, the amount of water condensing from the evaporator can often be substantial. There's the potential for significant damage if this moisture doesn't effectively drain away from your HVAC equipment.
Failures in the drainage system can cause water to back up, stopping your system from working. However, very small amounts of water may not be an issue. When should you worry about seeing some water around your air conditioner? The answer isn't always straightforward, but these three scenarios are warning signs that something may be wrong.
1. Your System Shuts Down
Air conditioners typically include a condensate safety switch (also known as a float switch) to detect clogged condensate lines. Float switches are simple that usually work by disconnecting the signal from the thermostat when the water level in the condensate line is too high. Your system will stop working once the condensate switch trips.
These safety shutdowns should not occur under normal circumstances. If your air conditioner stops working because of the condensate switch, it likely means a clog in your drain line, a problem with your drain pump, or an issue with the switch. It's best to avoid running your system once the condensate switch trips and find the source of the issue.
2. There's Water In Your Auxiliary Pan
If you have a basement air conditioner, you won't have an auxiliary pan and generally don't need to worry about this situation. Of course, water on your basement floor is a major issue, and you should stop using your system immediately and contact an HVAC tech. On the other hand, gravity-drained attic systems will typically have an auxiliary pan underneath the air handler to catch excess condensate.
This pan helps protect your home from condensation overflows, but the primary pan in the air handler should usually contain most of the water. Water flowing into the auxiliary pan usually indicates a severe problem, and anything more than a drop or two is cause for concern. While the problem may be as simple as a clog, it's important to locate the issue to avoid causing water damage to your home.
3. Your Pump Isn't Working
Basement systems usually include a pump that moves condensation to the nearest drain line. This pump is a necessary part of your system, and a pump failure will likely result in the condensate safety switch shutting your air conditioner down. Most pumps are simple, two-part plastic devices, and you can often separate the top without using any tools.
If you notice water around your pump, it may be a good idea to remove the top and check if the pan is full. If so, it can indicate that the float switch isn't working or the pump has failed. In either case, you'll need to address the problem to prevent your system from shutting down due to constant condensate overflows.
For more information, contact an air conditioning professional near you.