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What is an Air Conditioner Drip Pan?

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An air conditioner drip pan, also known as a condensate pan or drain pan, is a component of an air conditioning system that collects and manages the condensation produced during the cooling process. Its primary function is to catch the water that drips or condenses from the evaporator coil.

Moisture is released from your home's air during the cooling process. When warm air comes into contact with the cold evaporator coils inside your system, water drips off of those coils the same way that water drips off the sides of a glass of water or a can of soda when you drink one outside.

A drip pan sits right underneath your system's evaporator coils and collects all of the moisture that drips off of them. Without the drip pan, that water would drip directly onto your system and cause some serious damage.

The drip pan is connected to your system's condensate drain line, which is used to safely drain the water from the pan out of your home or into a nearby drain.

What Can Go Wrong with an AC Drip Pan?

An air conditioner's job seems simple enough: cool down your air and keep your home comfortable. But the truth is that there are a number of things that happen behind the scenes in order to make the cooling process possible. For example, moisture is released when your air is cooled down, and your system needs a way to deal with that moisture. That's where an air conditioner's drip pan comes into play.

Although an air conditioner's drip pan has an easy job, there are a few things that can go wrong with it that can lead to some serious issues with your system, including:

  • Cracks in the drip pan. Cracks can develop in a drip pan naturally over time, or something could come into forceful contact with the drip pan and cause it to crack. In either case, a cracked drip pan will allow water to leak directly out of the pan and onto your system.
  • Water overflowing the drip pan. If your condensate drain line gets clogged, water will begin to build up inside of your air conditioner's drip pan. Just like water can build up in a kitchen sink when the drain below is clogged, watch can build up in the drip pan when the condensate drain line is clogged. If the clog is severe, water can start flowing over the edges of the drip pan and damage the system below.

Air Conditioner Drip Pan FAQs

How much does it cost to replace a drip pan on an AC unit?

The cost to replace a drip pan on an AC unit ranges from $200 to $600. Typically, the drip pan is part of the evaporator coil so most of the time we need to change the coil as well. That can cost over $2000. If the pan is in an air handler or a package unit, we can often replace for approximately $500.

Here are some factors that can affect the cost of replacing a drip pan:

  • The type of AC unit: Window units typically have a simpler drip pan than central AC units, so they are less expensive to replace.
  • The material of the pan: Metal drip pans are more expensive than plastic drip pans.
  • The size of the unit: Larger units have larger drip pans, which are more expensive to replace.
Why does my air conditioner drip pan keep filling up?

The main reason an air conditioner drip pan keeps filling up is your drain system may be too small, there may not be enough gravity fall or partially it's blocked up or clogged. More than one unit may be using a single drain system too.

Here are some steps you can take to troubleshoot a full drip pan:

  1. Check the drain line for clogs. You can do this by disconnecting the drain line from the pan and running water through it. If the water does not flow freely, you will need to clear the clog.
  2. Check the evaporator coil for ice. If the coil is frozen, you will need to thaw it out. You can do this by turning off the air conditioner and using a hair dryer to warm the coil.
  3. Inspect the drip pan for damage. If the pan is damaged, you will need to replace it.
  4. Check the refrigerant levels. If the refrigerant levels are low, you will need to have the air conditioner recharged.
Why is my AC unit pan not draining?

The main reason a AC unit drip pan is not draining is the inlet may be clogged with debris. If your furnace is not level and slopes backwards this will be the main culprit. If it’s mounted horizontally like in an attic, it may not be level.

The Best Ways to Prevent AC Drip Pan Issues

One of the best ways to prevent problems with your air conditioner's drip pan is to schedule a tune-up for your system every year. During your tune-up, we'll inspect both your drip pan and your condensate drain line for any signs of leaks or clogs, and we'll take care of those problems before they damage your system. You can also help prevent clogs in your condensate drain line by changing your air filter every month, because particles from dirty air are often responsible for clogging up the drain line.

In addition, consider installing a drip pan with a float valve. A float valve is a safety device that monitors the water levels in your drip pan and shuts down your system if those levels get too high.

If you have any questions about your air conditioner's drip pan, or if you'd like a cooling system serviced or installed in your home, contact Hydes, your Coachella Valley air conditioner installation and repair contractor.

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