10 Troubleshooting Tips for a Leaking Air Conditioner

An air conditioner leaking refrigerant

How can you distinguish AC condensation from a leak?

Some water condensation is typical for air conditioners, especially on hot and humid days when they work overtime. This moisture usually collects in a drip pan or is expelled through a condensate drain line.

But if you see an unusual amount of water, or if the water pools in places where it shouldn’t, you may have an air conditioner leak that requires immediate attention.

Let’s dig into the details and discuss ways to troubleshoot air conditioner leaks and fix them DIY (when possible).

Signs of a Leaking Air Conditioner

  • Excessive Water Accumulation: If you notice more water than usual around your air conditioner, this could signal a leak.
  • Persistent Dripping: While some condensation is expected, a constant dripping or water flow indicates a problem.
  • Water Stains on Walls or Ceilings: Water marks near your AC unit suggest that leaking water is damaging your home.
  • Mold or Mildew Smell: An ongoing damp smell can indicate a leak that has created a breeding ground for mold and mildew.
  • Increased Humidity Inside: Air conditioners help control indoor humidity. If humidity levels rise inexplicably, it may be due to undrained leaking water.
  • Ice Formation on Coils: Leaking refrigerant can cause icing, which is sometimes confused with normal condensation.

Common Causes of Air Conditioner Leaks

1. Condensate Drain Blockage

Dirt and debris can accumulate in the condensate pan, hindering drainage.

DIY Fix: Remove any gunk and sanitize the pan to prevent future leaks.

2. Clogs in the Drain Line

Inspect the drain line for obstructions. A clog can impede drainage, leading to water backup and eventual leakage.

DIY Fix: Use a wet/dry vacuum or pipe cleaner to clear out any debris in the line. Use a mixture of vinegar and water to clear lime deposits.

3. Damaged or Disconnected Drain Line

The drain line can sometimes become damaged or disconnected, causing leaks.

DIY Fix: Check for any cracks, holes, or disconnections and repair as needed. Use a coupling or sealant to reattach the line if it has come loose.

4. Cracked or Clogged Condensate Pump

A malfunctioning condensate pump can also cause leaking. It’s responsible for pumping water out of the pan.

DIY Fix: Examine the pump for cracks or clogs. Replace or clean it as needed. If there are no visible issues, try resetting the pump by unplugging it and plugging it back in after a few minutes.

5. Refrigerant Leak or Low Refrigerant Levels

Low refrigerant levels can lead to an overworked system and ice formation on the evaporator coil. The melting ice results in water leakage.

DIY Fix: Sorry, no. Refrigerant is dangerous and requires special handling and equipment. Call a professional.

6. Clogged Air Filter

A clogged filter restricts airflow, sometimes causing the evaporator coil to freeze and eventually leak water.

DIY Fix: Regularly check and replace the air filter to ensure optimal performance and avoid potential leaks.

7. Damaged or Dirty Evaporator Coil

A damaged or dirty evaporator coil prevents proper airflow and causes freezing in the coil, leading to dripping water.

DIY Fix: If the coil is accessible, gently clean it with a soft brush or cloth. If it’s damaged, call a professional to replace it.

8. Improper Installation

Sometimes, the root cause of a leaky air conditioner is as simple as incorrect installation. An AC unit out of level may not drain properly.

DIY Fix: Check the unit with a level tool or an app like Bubble Level. Adjust the legs of the unit if necessary, or use shims to level it out.

9. Worn-out Sealant around the Air Handler

The sealant that keeps the air handler unit airtight can deteriorate, allowing moisture to escape.

DIY Fix: Inspect the sealant for any signs of wear and tear. Apply a fresh seal where necessary to prevent leaks.

10. High Indoor Humidity

Excessively high humidity levels inside your home can force your air conditioner to work harder, leading to condensation and potential leakage.

DIY Fix: Use dehumidifiers in your home to maintain optimal humidity levels and reduce the strain on your AC unit.

When It’s Time to Call a Pro

While a good DIY approach works for some aspects of air conditioner maintenance, certain conditions warrant professional assistance. Here’s when calling an HVAC expert is the best course of action:

  • Complex Refrigerant Issues: Any issues related to refrigerant leakage or replenishment are best left to professionals due to the hazardous nature of the chemicals involved.
  • Electrical Malfunctions: If the problem is related to the electrical components of your AC, a certified technician should address it.
  • Persistent Leaks: If you’ve attempted the above DIY fixes and the leaking persists, there could be a more serious underlying issue requiring professional diagnostics.
  • Extensive Mold Growth: Mold resulting from leaks can be toxic and difficult to remove, necessitating professional services.
  • Warranty Concerns: DIY repairs may void your air conditioner’s warranty. Always check the warranty terms and conditions before attempting repairs.
  • Lack of Tools or Expertise: Discretion is the better part of valor. If you lack the specialized tools or are unsure about the AC’s components, call a professional technician to avoid personal injury or damage to your unit.

Residents of metro Los Angeles, Orange County, and South Ventura County have the good luck of being within the service area of West Coast Chief. We offer same-day service in many cases, hire only licensed and certified technicians, and guarantee all jobs we complete. Estimates for HVAC replacement and installation are free.

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AC Maintenance Tips to Prevent Future Leaks

  • Schedule regular maintenance checks with a qualified technician.
  • Keep the area around your AC unit clean and free of debris.
  • Change your air filter every 1-3 months, depending on usage.
  • Monitor your AC’s performance and address any issues promptly.
  • Ensure the condensate drain pan is solid, without cracks or damage, and replace if necessary.
  • Insulate any exposed refrigerant lines leading into the house to maintain efficiency and reduce condensation.
  • Check your ductwork periodically for leaks or poor insulation.
  • Consider installing a programmable thermostat to help manage your home’s temperature and humidity levels.

Frequently Asked Questions about Leaking Air Conditioners

Q: Can I fix refrigerant leaks myself?

A: Fixing refrigerant leaks requires specialized equipment and expertise, so it’s best left to licensed HVAC technicians.

Q: What should I do if I notice ice buildup on my AC coils?

A: Turn off your AC and let the ice thaw before restarting. If the problem persists, seek professional assistance.

Q: How often should I change my air filter?

A: We recommend changing your air filter every 1-3 months, depending on usage and the filter type.

Q: Can regular maintenance prevent AC leaks?

A: Regular maintenance can prevent common AC issues like leaks and extend the lifespan of your unit. Schedule annual maintenance checks with a qualified technician.

Q: How do I know if my AC unit is installed correctly?

A: A professional HVAC technician can inspect your AC unit’s installation and positioning to ensure proper drainage and functioning. If you suspect structural issues or sloping problems, seek professional assistance.

Q: How do I clean my AC coils?

A: If your AC coils are accessible, gently clean them with a soft brush or cloth. For deeper cleaning, call a professional to avoid damage to the coils.

Q: Is it safe to apply a sealant on the air handler DIY?

A: While applying a sealant may seem straightforward, it’s important to use the right type and apply it correctly to ensure an airtight seal. If you’re comfortable with this DIY task and understand the specifications, you can try it; otherwise, a professional should handle it for lasting results.

Q: Can high electricity bills be related to a leaky AC unit?

A: A leaky AC unit can be inefficient, leading to higher energy consumption and increased electricity bills. Addressing leaks promptly can help restore efficiency and reduce costs.

Q: When is the best time of year to schedule AC maintenance checks?

A: The best time to schedule AC maintenance is during the spring, before the hot weather sets in, or during the fall, after the high-demand summer season. This allows for any necessary repairs or replacements before peak usage times.

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