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For the uninitiated homeowner, the term Condensate Drain furnace Pan may seem foreign and too technical.

In reality, though, the condensate drain pan is one of the simplest-looking mechanisms within the furnace system. It is simple yet very integral as it does not only function for the furnace, but it also serves as a protection for the home structure against water damage.

The condensate drain pan catches the condensation created within the furnace. Making sure that all the condensation gets to correctly exit the furnace or air conditioner, also prevents microbiological growth within the internal system and consequent damage.

Dripping condensation in any part of the house can ultimately cause damage to flooring, walls, wood structures, and the like. The possible water damage can even get complicated with mold growth. Molds do not only pose structural risks, but it also causes health issues, especially with children and household members with co-morbidities. With this, it is crucial to care for the condensate drain pan as it has a huge impact on a home’s indoor air quality.

How does a condensate drain pan work?

The condensate drain pan’s primary purpose is to catch the condensation that comes from the air conditioner condenser or the furnace system. The water mainly comes from the condensation built up during the air conditioning process.

Simply put, the evaporator coils get filled with compressed refrigerant. During this time, the coils get too cold. Once the warm air from the house gets into the coils through the ducts, heat transfer occurs. The coils in effect remove humidity and heat from the warm air sucked in from the room. After this process, the cooled air gets pushed into the house through the ducts, making the indoor environment comfortably cool.

As this cycle goes on, condensation causes excess water to pool into the working areas within the AC system. Just like a container filled with cold water and left out in a warm room, beads of water form into the surfaces of the evaporator coil. As the excess water drips down from the coils, it drops unto the condensate drain pan that is right underneath the coils. The condensation continues to drip into the tray as long as the air conditioning unit is turned on. It only stops when the AC is turned off.

From the drain pan, the water goes through the condensate drain line that allows it to correctly exit the house towards the sewage system or other external area where the water is routed.

Where is the condensate drain pan?

The condensate drain pan’s location varies from the furnace or air conditioner model. It is however dependent on where the evaporator coils are set up as it has to be right beneath it. The evaporator coils are the tight wires that are found within the AC system. Here are some examples:

Vertical furnaces

Vertical furnaces are installed upright. Usually, these types of furnaces are installed within the garage area or the closet. Since it is in an upright position, the evaporator coils are situated on the upper portion of the furnace. With this type of setup, the condensate drain pan and drain line is installed right under the evaporator coils.

Horizontal furnaces

The horizontal furnace is usually situated in the attic. In this type of setup, the air flows from side to side instead of up and down in a vertical installation. Here the evaporator is situated next to the furnace.   

Why are there two condensate drain pans for horizontal furnaces?

Unlike vertical furnaces, horizontal furnaces come with two condensate drain pans. The second one is meant to provide additional protection from possible water damage due to dripping water. Since horizontal HVAC systems are usually installed on the upper floor of a home, any excess water that could flow from the primary condensate drain pan can cause water damage in the ceiling, the flooring, drywall, and other parts of the home that is made of wood. With an added layer of protection through the second condensate drain pan, the chances of overflowing water from built-up condensation gets to be smaller.

Like the primary condensate drain pan, the secondary unit also has its drain line. This line usually goes through the window where the water it collected flows through. Since the end of the drain line is visible, homeowners get a clue if the primary condensate drain pan or line is compromised or malfunctioning. Whenever water flows from the secondary line, it is time to call an HVAC pro to resolve the issue.

Can the condensate drain pan get damaged?

Even if the condensate drain pan seems simplistic, it can also incur its share of damage. There are times that it can fail, and this usually happens in aged furnaces and air conditioning systems where the drain pan is made of metal. Metal usually corrodes because of rust, and so in this aspect, it can easily fail.

Newer HVAC models though come with plastic condensate drain pans. These plastic-based pans are more durable and can last for up to 10 years. However, these drain pans cannot be replaced alone, it is part of the evaporator coil system since every evaporator has to have the exact match.

What causes damage to the condensate drain pan?

Condensate drain pans usually get damaged during winter. Since it mainly gets utilized during the summer when air conditioning is needed, its function comes to a halt during winter. Since most of these pans are situated on top or next to the furnace, the heat from the furnace regularly grazes the pan, and the alternating cold and heat could consequently cause cracking.

While the cracks are not discovered until the AC needs to be used in the summer, the homeowner will soon discover them. The water will drip into the furnace and cause damage. The excess water can also drip beneath it and cause water damage to the surface where it pools.

Another common damage is a blockage in the condensate drain line. Clogging can occur when the air filters are dirty, there is a foreign object that obstructs the area, or usual wear and tear. When the line is clogged, the water backs up and overfills the drain pan. Since the drain pan cannot hold a large amount of water, the excess water can spill over the furnace or other surfaces beneath it. The drain pan is usually just large enough to get filled with water for a cycle, so when the drain line is blocked and water cannot flow, it will surely get overfilled.   

Condensate line clogging, and damaged condensate pans can cause serious issues which include:

  • Mold or microbiological growth
  • Safety issues
  • Lower indoor air quality
  • The internal build-up of water
  • Unpleasant AC odor
  • Water damage

With this, homeowners should stay alert for pooling water coming from the AC system. Never postpone repairs as it can save the household from serious HVAC issues that are expensive to resolve.

Care for your condensate pans with Reliable Standard Heating and Air

At Reliable Standard Heating and Air we can help you care for your condensate drain pans. We offer regular furnace and air conditioning tune-ups and assessments. We also have HVAC maintenance plans that assure that you will never forget to schedule routine HVAC and Furnace tune-ups. Moreover, we are here to help you with any issues involving your HVAC condensate drain pans. We have helped countless households resolve similar issues and we can help you with yours. Get in touch with us today!

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