Your air conditioners pipe outside is covered in ice, and you are wondering why? In the middle of summers, such an occurrence may seem surreal. When everything is wilting, drooping, and melting due to excessive heat, frozen air conditioner pipes give you a pause. You are right to be confused as it is something you don’t see every day. Ice on the air conditioner pipe outside is actually an indication of problems within your AC.
Ice On Air Conditioner Pipe Outside – What Causes It?
Usually, there are two reasons that could lead to ice formation on the pipes.
1. Limited airflow over the evaporator coil.
2. Low levels of refrigerant or the coolant.
Regrettably, no matter what the reason ice formation anywhere on your AC is something to be concerned about. It is a problem that needs to be dealt with immediately to ensure the efficient operations of your HVAC unit.
Limited Airflow Over The Evaporator Coil
Think of your AC as a machine that breathes in hot air from outside and expels cool air inside your home. In order to perform this operation, the flow of air has to be free of restrictions. Now, remember, there is cold refrigerant flowing inside the evaporator coils. When warm air passes over these coils, it loses its warmth & humidity and becomes sufficiently dry & cool. In turn, this process does not allow the temperature of the refrigerant to fall to freezing.
When warm air and cold coils come in contact with each other, condensation occurs. Small water droplets are formed on the evaporator coils. Ideally, this condensate collects in the drip pan, and from there it passes on to the drain line.
However, when the flow of air over the evaporator coils is insufficient, the temperature of the refrigerant falls to freezing. This happens because sufficient warm air is unable to pass over the coils to maintain its desired temperatures. When the refrigerant becomes excessively cold, the condensation over the coils freezes. If the obstriction causing low airflow is not removed, the condensation will keep on freezing and accumulating until even the pipe outside is iced over.
Causes Of Limited Airflow – A variety of reasons can result in the restricted flow of air. Most prominent of these are –
1. Clogged or dirty air filters.
2. Warped or bent sir ducts.
3. Problems with the blower fan.
4. Dirty evaporator coils.
5. Blocked or closed vents.
What’s The Solution – First check the air filter. If it is dirty, replace it immediately. If the culprit is not a clogged air filter, call your local AC technician. In the meantime, switch “OFF” the thermostat. Turn the thermostat’s fan setting to “ON”. Let your AC run like this for a couple of hours. Typically, if the ice formation is not much, it would melt within 3 to 4 hours. But if the accumulation is large, the defrosting may take longer.
Low Refrigerant Or Coolant Levels
The refrigerant inside the evaporator coils is responsible for cooling the air. When the level of the refrigerant drops, it causes ice formation. You must be wondering why this happens? The answer is relatively simple. The pressure inside the evaporator coil reduces when the AC is low on refrigerant. As the pressure drops, so does the temperature of the refrigerant. In due course, the low temperatures result in ice formation. As more and more condensation freezes, you will notice that there is ice on the air conditioner pipe outside as well.
Signs Of Leaking Refrigerant – When you see a combination of two or more of the below-mentioned scenarios, it is indicative of a refrigerant leak.
1. A strange bubbling or hissing sound coming from the AC, especially along the refrigerant lines.
2. AC is blowing relatively warm air for the same temperature setting.
3. A drastic increase in your electricity bills.
Why Does Refrigerant Leak – Below are a few reasons that could cause the refrigerant to leak. The list is not exhaustive, but these are the ones that top the charts –
1. With age, the metal coils wear out and develop cracks and holes, causing the refrigerant to leak.
2. A refrigerant leak may happen when there is impact damage to the evaporator coils. It may happen by accident or when a natural calamity strikes.
3. A factory defect or manufacturing defect in the AC.
4. Faulty installation.
What’s The Solution – The solution is the same as mentioned above. You need to turn “OFF” the thermostat and switch it to the “FAN ONLY” setting. This will, however, just take care of the immediate problem but not give a permanent solution. Since the refrigerant is a sensitive chemical, you will need to call HVAC experts to take care of this issue. You need to beware of contractors who replenish the refrigerant levels but fail to address the cause of the leak. Failing to fix the leak, will cause the refrigerant to spill again. So, what you have on your hands is a vicious circle with no permanent solution. A good technician will first fix the leak and only then top up the refrigerant level.
Seasonal maintenance of your air conditioner takes care of most problems. It also brings to light the beginnings of any problems. Although maintenance is not a “cure-all” solution. Yet it is necessary if you want to maintain the warranty of your AC. In spite of your best intentions, your AC may still give you trouble at times. Ice on air conditioner pipes outside is one such situation. Mostly it will be due to a dirty air filter. If not, a trained AC technician can come to your rescue. Meanwhile, you can perform the steps mentioned above to get rid of ice that has formed on the AC. You can also speed up its melting by blowing warm air over the coils with a hairdryer. When you do so ensure that it is on the lowest setting. Hopefully, you will now be able to tackle your frozen air conditioner problems yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs
To put it simply, your AC line has ice on it because the evaporator coils are getting too cold. Most probably, it is due to a low level of refrigerant, but another possibility is that somewhere the airflow is getting restricted. You need to check out both scenarios.
AC pipes can freeze due to any of the following reasons:
1. Clogged air filters.
2. Dirty evaporator or condenser coils.
3. Closed air vents.
4. Blower fan issues.
5. Leaky or collapsed air ducts.
6. Overgrowth of bushes or piles of debris around the outdoor unit.
7. Low refrigerant level.
8. Using AC in cold weather.
When the refrigerant flowing through the evaporator coils becomes too cold, even the coils become frigid. It causes the moisture that comes in contact with the coils to freeze. As a result, the air conditioner’s refrigerant line gets covered in ice. The more the moisture, the higher the ice build-up.
If your AC pipe is frozen, there’s no reason to panic. Go to the thermostat and switch off the cooling and switch the fan setting to “On.” Now sit back and let your system take care of itself. The warm indoor air will blow over the frozen AC pipe and melt the ice. It’s as easy as that.
Ice on the outside air conditioner pipe results from the ice build-up, which starts either on the evaporator coils or the condenser coils. If the outdoor unit is dirty or has obstructions around it, the ice build-up will start from that end, and as the accumulation increases, it spreads to the AC pipe. Similarly, airflow issues or low refrigerant levels may trigger the freezing of the evaporator coils and spread to the outside air conditioner pipe.