Most air conditioning units these days don’t require much tinkering. Yet, as your AC unit starts amassing some mileage (or is airage?), you might have to prepare yourself for your first AC drain pan replacement.
We know it sounds scary, but if you’re a proud owner of a central air conditioning unit, replacing the drain pan is one of those necessary survival skills – similar to how changing a tire is for car owners.
Additionally, being familiar with the condition of your drain pans can help you spot other issues before they become too much of a problem for mere mortals to handle (that is, people who aren’t licensed HVAC professionals).
So if you find yourself in such a pickle, here’s everything you need to know about AC drain pan replacement and how you can do it yourself.
What is a Drain Pan?
For the uninitiated, your air conditioner cools the air using the magic of the evaporator coils. Located inside your indoor and outdoor units, they are cooled when refrigerant circulates back and forth between them.
At the same time, a fan is constantly pulling in warm air from the inside and cooling it by forcing it over the evaporator coils. The cool air then recirculates back into your living space or your office. Pretty cool, eh?
The byproduct of this process is condensation. That’s why the drain pan exists – to capture all that humidity and excess water and remove it from your air conditioner unit.
Now, depending on the type of your AC, you might have upwards of two condensate drain pans. The primary condensate pan collects condensation that sometimes drops from the evaporator coils. The secondary drain pipe is the extra line of defense and is there to ensure that the primary one doesn’t overfill.
Is an AC Drain Pan Replacement Necessary?
A drain pan is one of the things you should monitor since they don’t last forever and are prone to issues. For example, if your AC has two, you should periodically check if there is excess water collecting in your secondary pan. This is usually a sign that the primary drain pan is not working properly.
Excess water, in general, usually points to a bigger problem. There might be a clog between the drain pan and the area that drains liquid back into the main system, or the pan itself could be slightly tilted to one side.
In any case, you should never let the water sit too long in your drip pan. It could lead to mold, and even worse, it could attract insects (especially in places like Florida).
Take a look at your drip pan and if you see any corrosion, you’re due for an AC drain pan replacement. A corroded pan might develop cracks which can then cause significant water damage.
Things You’ll Need
First thing first – you’ve got to do your homework.
Before you start the dreaded process of an AC drain pan replacement, you’ll need to have the new pan ready. Start by finding out the exact make and model of your air conditioner – you should have no trouble tracking down the replacement part online.
To change your drain pan, you’ll only need a few simple tools – a wrench, a screwdriver, and a pair of pliers. We also recommend having a bucket at hand and a pair of gloves (we’ll get to why later).
How fast and difficult the AC drain pan replacement goes depends solely on the type of air conditioner you have.
In certain air conditioner models, both drain pans will be attached via either clips or screws. But, with some models, a primary pan might be welded in place so you’ll only be able to remove the secondary one.
In the worst-case scenario, though, a single drain pan will be welded in place.
If you come across any welded drip pans, chances are they’re attached to the main part of the system. Don’t attempt to remove them! We can’t stress that enough as you can hurt yourself or cause damage to the AC system itself – or both. Instead, call a licensed professional and have them deal with the issue.
If there is water in the pan and you’re afraid of it overflowing, use a device such as a sump pump to buy yourself some extra time while you’re waiting for an HVAC expert.
Now, if your AC doesn’t have welded drip pans, you can proceed to the AC drain pan replacement process itself.
Removing and Installing a Drain Pan
The AC drain pan replacement is pretty simple if you follow these steps:
1. Cut off the unit’s power supply.
2. Detach the front panel. This part doesn’t require any tools as the panel can be removed by either pulling it away from the unit or pushing it upwards.
3. Unscrew the screws that are keeping the pan in place. If it’s connected using clips, simply detach the clips.
4. Disconnect the drain line found on the corner of the pan. You can easily loosen and remove it with a pair of pliers or a wrench.
5. Finally, attempt to slide out the drain pan gently. If you nudge it towards the inside of the AC, it might help it slide out easier. If there is water in the pan, proceed with caution (especially if there is mold in the water). Use a pair of gloves while gently lifting out the pan. Have a bucket ready to avoid spilling too much.
6. Install the new pan by simply sliding it into place. Then reattach the drain line, screw in the screws, or attach the clips and you’ve completed your first successful AC drain pan replacement.
Bonus Tip: :Post-Op Checkup
If you want to keep your AC running in tip-top shape, take extra care of it even if the AC drain pan replacement was a success. Remember, how we briefly mentioned more serious issues that could be causing excess water? Now is the time to see if they’re going to pop up.
If after a few days you see the drain pan is full again, maybe it’s a refrigerant leak that caused your evaporator coils to freeze. In such a case, you’ll almost always also experience decreased cooling power as well. So if you see ice on your evaporator coils and feel the power of the AC decreasing, chances are it’s happening due to a refrigerant leak. This is a serious issue and you should call a certified professional right away.
Alternatively, if you’re constantly emptying out drain pans, a clogged drain pipe could be a prime suspect. After all, it can easily get filled with debris or dirt. It’s an easy job for a professional, but for the majority of people (the mere mortals), it might be a lot harder to do than doing a simple AC drain pan replacement.
May We Lend a Hand?
That wasn’t hard, wasn’t it? At the very least, we hope you learned a bit more about how your trusty old air conditioner system operates.
However, don’t think that all of this is a wasted effort if it turns out to be a more severe problem. Doing the AC drain pan replacement yourself can provide you with an insight into the overall state of your air conditioner. Thus you’ll be more prepared to know instinctively if anything goes wrong.
If you still don’t feel comfortable replacing the pan yourself or you’ve run into problems along the way, feel free to contact Aztil AC. We’re available 24/7 in West Palm Beach, FL and we also provide regular maintenance if you want to make sure your air conditioner stays in excellent shape at all times.