The hard-working AC
In cooling warm air through an AC system, moisture will be expelled as the air passes through the evaporator coils. The excess moisture will then drip off the evaporator coils into the drip/drain pan, which acts as a water leak safety net preventing the water leaking from contacting the surrounding environment.
A properly installed and fully functional AC system will quickly expel the collected water from the drain pan through the drainpipe. The problem lies in the range of factors that can cause disturbances in this process, risking damage to the system, household items, and house structure.
AC units have become a given for acceptable living conditions in many regions and countries. For example, in warm areas such as Florida, AC systems often run 24/7 to cool the hot air and make it endurable.
The harder your AC unit works, the more it requires maintenance and cleaning to withstand.
A fan circulates air over the evaporator, dispensing the chilled air.
Cooling coils remove heat and humidity from the air using a refrigerant. Condensed humidity drips down on a pan and is dispensed through a drain.
Removes particles from the air intake.
Hot coils release the collected heat into the outside air.
A pump that moves refrigerant between the evaporator and the condenser to chill the indoor air.
Blows air over the condenser to dissipate the heat outside.
Water leaks happen
Several conditions can lead to unusual water production and accumulation in the drip pan. If water levels start to build up faster than what the drainage system expels, the AC will start to leak water.
- Condensation pumps can malfunction and begin to release moisture. This issue often leads to further system damages.
- The evaporator coils can become frozen, usually due to too low refrigerant levels, leading to an increase in water production. Low refrigerant levels usually signal leakage within the system, risking costly reparations if not addressed.
- A lacking drip pan installation with a tilting angle leads to water pooling before it can be expelled via the drain pipe. The drip pan can also lack support from below, allowing it to tilt.
- The drain pipe or drainage system can be clogged or physically damaged, hindering the system from dispelling the drain pan’s excess water. Common blocking factors include mold and algae growth in the drainpipe, and excess accumulation of dust and dirt (cleansed from the air by the evaporator coils and sent out through the drainage system).
The simple presence of water in the drain pan is not a cause of concern in itself. When water becomes stagnant is when something is malfunctioning. At that point, the risk of water damage is high and expected soon.
When the system malfunctions, it is important to act quickly to avoid a range of potential consequences:
- Circulation of bad, smelly, and even directly harmful air. Moist and moldy conditions can quickly arise and lead to health concerns and structural damages.
- High expenses on damaged AC equipment in need of replacement.
- Excessively high energy expenses due to malfunction.
Consistent maintenance of the AC system can avoid painful surprises, unfortunate expenses, complicated insurance claims, and damaged belongings.
AC installations typically come with a float switch to turn off the system when the drip pan starts to fill. Float switches commonly require around 1 inch, or 2,5 centimeters, of water in the pan before it reacts. This means that if you have a sloping or incorrectly installed drain pan, plenty of water can build up and leak before the float switch might react.
Heat also risks cracking plastic drain pans and cause leakages, creating an even higher risk of water leaking and never activating the float switch. In general, float switches are not reliable as the single tool for protection.
A solution to these challenges is complementing the installation with a more sensitive water leak sensor. By installing a water leak sensor in the drip pan on the vertical side where it connects to the bottom, you can be alerted as soon as water builds up and becomes stagnant in the drip pan.
We recommend to set up your water leak alarm with a layer of material, for example, a strip of plastic, between the drip pan and the water leak sensor to protect from disturbances.
Never mount a wireless sensor on a metal surface directly. It will disturb the radio signal and reduce the transmission range and sometimes even block the signal.
If you choose an absorbing material, it will soak up the moisture from the pan’s bottom, alerting you as soon as alarming moisture starts to build up. By implementing a Strips Drip water leak sensor with an absorbing layer between tray and sensor, you will have the best user-friendly AC water leak alarm available.
As stated, drip pans made from plastic present a risk of cracking when the surrounding temperature becomes too high. If you do have a drip pan at risk of cracking, it is advisable to place a sensor that can detect when water might be leaking and not building up.
If your installation requires a secondary drip pan to cover the whole setup, you can place a sensor on the second tray to detect a possible leak from the main drip pan. Alternatively, you can place a sensor on the floor under the installation to ensure that any leaking water is detected before it penetrates the house structure.
Damage from AC water leakage might be one of the worst issues you face as a homeowner as it usually is far more than uncomfortable. A water leak can deeply penetrate structures and cause damages that require a lot of work and resources to remediate. Such damages could render a home unlivable for months as drying out the damaged structure, or at worst, replacing it, is time-consuming and costly.
Water leaks and mold typically have the capacity to permeate and damage all building structures: Ceilings, walls, baseboards, insulation, flooring, and drywall. To illustrate; replacing 200 sq.ft. of vinyl flooring can cost over $1 000, while mold remediation adds an extra $1 500 for a space that size. US national average costs for repairing water damage are estimated to around $3 000-$8 000, while AC leak damages in the UK range from between £700-£1 500. These costs can reach substantially higher depending on service challenges in the building, extent of damages, extra service company fees, and more. Furthermore, irreplaceable personal belongings also stand the risk of being destroyed, such as photos, diaries, paintings, etc.
An insurance company typically covers at least some of the related costs. What makes the insurance situation precarious is that proper documentation of AC leaks, required for insurance claims, requires a licensed service professional and standards can be challenging to adhere to. As an AC system comes in contact with the majority of a house’s structure, that majority of the structure is at risk of moist air and water leaks. This width of contact complicates the task of pinpointing the main cause and origins of the damages. And, without proper documentation, one stands the risk of having to pay the costs without support. Because of this, regular health checks and general good supervision of one’s AC system will decrease risks, whether by allowing one to act preventive or by having proper documentation when needed.
Do not let accidents happen; empower yourself by staying informed about the challenges that your AC system might be facing. Sensative’s easily installed Strips Drip sensors send alerts when any alarming water levels or moisture starts to build up. By monitoring moisture and water levels in real-time through a Z-Wave Smart Home or other system, you can be alerted when your AC risks shutting down or when unfavorable conditions are detected.
In contrast to the possible damage expenses, installing one or two easy-to-use and reliable sensors can be the most pleasant route. A Sensative Strips Drip sensors in conjunction with a float switch and regular system maintenance will keep your risks of issues and damages comfortably low. Think preventive and spend time and resources on the best parts of life.
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If you represent a company looking for water leak solutions, we offer sensors from both Z-Wave and LoRaWAN for professional applications.
Strips Drip for Z-Wave and Strips MS +Drip for LoRaWAN, together with our full sensor family, can be found and ordered via our webshop. For larger quantities or if you want to discuss your needs, please contact us and we will guide you through the process.
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