Drain Lines

To clean, or not to clean: that should never be the question! I cannot stress the importance of maintaining your air conditioning and heating system enough. One of the many parts of maintaining your a/c system is your drain lines. I’m going to explain to you the difference of a correctly ran drain line and signs of a drain line, that is ran incorrectly, the difference between a primary and secondary drain line and how to maintain them, the benefits and consequences of maintaining or not maintaining them, and why insulating drain lines are important.

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There are some simple ways you can tell if the drain line in your house is being run and draining correctly. First, the coil that your primary drain line is running off of needs to be at a downward angle to allow the water from the coil to drip into the drain line. Every drain line also needs to have what is called a “P-Trap”. If you look at the picture to the right, it will show you what the p-trap looks like. The p-trap creates an air lock which then forces the water down the pipes and drain properly.

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This is an incorrectly installed p-trap. As you can see, the vent is before the P-trap. This creates a vacuum effect instead of pushing the air down, which hinders the draining ability of the unit. As stated earlier, your coil needs to be angled downward so that the water can flow into the drain line. Your a/c system needs to have two drain lines. The first one, your “primary”, which comes directly off the coil, and needs to be run into your home plumbing lines. Your second drain line, the “secondary or emergency”, comes off the drain pan and needs to be ran through your attic and proceed to the outside of your house.

The picture to the left depicts what a proper primary and secondary (emergency) drain lines should look like and the difference between the both of them. As you can see on the main drain line, there is a P-trap and the vent pipe is after the P-trap allowing for proper air and water flow. The secondary drain line needs to be pointing downward toward the drain pan, but other than that, it is properly installed. If the emergency drain pan takes on water, the emergency drain line is connected to the drain pan to allow it to drain to the outside of the house.

You may do is go to your local Lowe’s or Home Depot and pick up a container of algae tabs. Instead of pouring bleach down the vent tube, you can put two or three algae tabs down there instead. They will both do the same thing, but some people prefer to use the algae tabs since they are specifically designed for this purpose. It’s six one way, half a dozen the other.

Furthermore, another practice for keeping your drain lines properly maintained is by making sure your drain lines are properly insulated. You can buy insulation tubes called “Rubatex”, and slip this insulation tubing onto your drain lines. What this will do is prevent your cold PVC pipes from “sweating” and causing further water damage to your ceiling. It is quite easy to apply the rubatex to your PVC pipes. Determine what size PVC piping you have (it will usually say on the pipe, most common size is ¾-1 inch), measure how much rubatex you need and cut a line going down the rubatex. Once you have done this, slip the rubatex on your PVC pipes and then once it’s on, simply use duct tape to keep the rubatex from coming off of the pipes. See the picture to the right for an example of what rubatex looks like.

Now that we have discussed how to properly run and maintain your drain lines, let’s discuss the benefits of doing so. One of the benefits of maintaining your drain lines is that you will never have water damage on your ceiling because of your a/c and heating system. When your lines begin to clog up, the water will begin to drain into that emergency drain pan. Sometimes, the pan could have a crack in it from just years and years of wear and tear. This will cause water damage to your ceiling and could force you to spend additional money on repairs that could have been avoided to begin with. Maintaining your drain lines can also save you money down the road. It will help keep your unit running at peak performance, thus not requiring as much energy to run since it will be running for shorter periods of time.

Additionally, there are a few issues that you may run into if you decide to neglect your drain lines. Earlier, I had discussed how there is something called an emergency drain pan under most coils. If your drain lines begin to clog up and that water begins to fill the drain pan, there is a device called a “float switch,” and the function of this device is to turn off your a/c and heating system when that drain pan reaches a certain water level. Leaving water in that drain pan for a long period of time will cause your drain pan to rust, therefore creating those holes in the drain pan that I had discussed earlier. These holes will lead to water damage. Below is a picture of a float switch clipped onto the side of your drain pan.

Let’s review:

  • All drain lines must have a “P-Trap”
  • All drain lines must be at a downward slope to help with the water flow
  • All drain pans must have a float switch device attached
  • Pouring bleach or algae tabs down the vent pipe on your drain lines will help prevent build up within the tubing
  • Neglecting your draining system will cause water damage to your ceiling when your float switch fails
  • Insulating your PVC drain pipes is a good practice and an extra safety measure


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