Clogged Drain Line Caused Drip outside drip pan

Discussion in 'HVAC Heating & Cooling' started by oreyes, Sep 16, 2008.

  1. oreyes

    oreyes New Member

    Messages:
    14
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Hello all,

    Back in July my AC unit leaked into the ceiling of the 2nd fl. The service people cleared the clog from the end of the pipe by blowing nitronen I believe. No probem since then. I'm puzzled however due to the fact that the drip pan under the unit was not wet at all and the water leaked completely outside of it. The tech was not able to Id the root cause.

    I'm facing $2500 in damage - covered by insurance - but am concerned this may happen again. Also ...I have a a 10 yr svc contract with the Co. that instaleld the unit 2 years ago. Any general opinions as to whether they are liable for at least the deductible I'll have to shell out? Unit is Lennox Signature. Thanks.
  2. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    The outside drip pan is for any leaks that are not supposed to be there.

    The condensate drain should probably not be into the drip. You have a primary drain....apparently clogged. Thus the secondary condensate drain picked up that load. Often the secondary drains to someplace where it will annoy you, so you can't ignore it. Like the living room ceiling.
  3. Mikebarone

    Mikebarone DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    206
    Location:
    Phoenix, AZ
    Just a thought...

    This you may already know: You should have, (if I’m picturing it correctly) two condensation pipes on the outside of your house. One should be low; around 12” above ground level and the other should be higher. The lower one should be the one that drips all the time…everything is ok. When the top one starts to drip, that means that the normal operation drain is plugged, and the pan is now taking on water.
    When you’re A/C guy came out, did he have to blow out both drains? Being that you had drywall damage that would mean that both condensation lines were plugged. If this is a big mystery, of how the pan under the unit was not wet, and the water got to your drywall, the only thing I can think of doing is imitating the seen of the crime.
    Go up in your attic, (making sure that you thermostat is set in the, “off position” before going up there) and remove the side panel to the air handler. Take a small rag, and plug up the drain hole, in the air handler unit. Pour water into the bottom of air handler tray, until it overflows, and see what happens. The water should drip over into the emergency pan, and out the drain line. Have someone stand outside, to see if water is dripping out of the pipe, (the higher one). See if there is sludge build-up in the bottom of the air handler. If there is, shop vac up as much as you can, and then take a small brush and hot soapy water, and flush out as much of it as you can. When you are done cleaning it out, make sure that clear water is coming out of the lower pipe, on the outside of your house.
    As far as them being responsible for all/ part of the damage, (in my opinion and depending on what you find out on the test) it may fall back on the original installers of the unit. If you just have a service contract with you’re A/C company, and not a maintenance program, I would say, (again in my opinion) they would not be responsible for the damage that accrued.
    As far as the pan not being wet; if it was hot up in your attic, the pan would have probably dried up, by the time someone got up there to check it out.

    Good luck on that one,

    Mike
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2008
  4. oreyes

    oreyes New Member

    Messages:
    14
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Thanks for your help Mike. Here's some more info. There is only one pipe outside the house. It is the one connected to a P trap with a micro switch and it goes into the housing of the unit. There is also a 3/4 inch pipe connected to the drip pan about 18 inches down from the p trap but it is only about 5 incles long and there is another microswitch in front of it inside the pan. This sucker discharges onto the plywood they laid down in front of the unit for servicing the unit. There is a strange connector (plug?) at the end of this pipe I do not know if it is or is not capable of dripping to the plywood and the insulation/ ceiling below. If is is capable of dripping this could well be the issue. I took pictures. I'll try to post them right now. It is not working I'll try again. The files are 2 meg a piece Have to figure out how to make smaller.... I'll keep trying. The Co that installed it is the same that has the 10 yr maint. contract
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2008
  5. oreyes

    oreyes New Member

    Messages:
    14
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Pics!

    Hope this works... If anyone is wondering - This was done with IRFANVIEW - it was quick and easy. Thanks to all that have helped with this. It is very humbling to see how well these communities work, I hope I can be of help to some.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Sep 22, 2008
  6. oreyes

    oreyes New Member

    Messages:
    14
    Location:
    Connecticut
    The I guess it's possible that the drip pan cracked during install after the unit was set on it and the installers did not replace it? The secondary pan seems kind of flimsy to me. If the issue is not discernible from the pictures I'll proceed to the water test. On the second picture is that hole next to the P trap connection to the air handler normal? Looks like something went wrong there.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2008
  7. Mikebarone

    Mikebarone DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    206
    Location:
    Phoenix, AZ
    What the heck?????

    I personally have never seen that set up with the micro switches and all. So I really can’t tell you if that set up is correct or not. I’m a little confused why the drain pipe to the bottom pan is plugged and not plumbed to outside of the house. I also don’t under stand what the micro switches are for. Did you get a chance to trace the wires down and see where the go? It would make a some sense if the micro switch on the bottom pan detected moisture, that it would shut down the unit, and an alarm in your house would sound notifying you that there is a problem.
    If you do the water test, make sure, that when you find the leak, you are able to get the rest of the water out of there, like with a shop vac or something. Before you do the water test, you might contact the installers and ask them how that system works, (with the micro switches, and the drain line to the bottom pan plugged). It might save you some time up in the attic, if you know how the system works, (if all the components are work properly).
    I also wonder why they didn’t put in a simple drain system, (with two pipes going outside of the house). Was there a reason for installing the micro switches, (that may malfunction) because they couldn’t install a simple drain system?
    I hope someone on this forum will know what the switches do, and why the bottom pan pipe is capped off.
    If it comes down to where the installers have to come out to see what is going on, I would stick to them like glue, to see what they do. If what they do, as far as a repair, is related to the drywall damage that you have occurred, I sure would make an issue about it.

    Mike
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2008
  8. oreyes

    oreyes New Member

    Messages:
    14
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Talked to the installer /service contractor. A visit by a tech will be scheduled. He said the pipes get blocked usually by spiders or other critters. Which is true, but he did not have a good answer when I mentioned the microswitches and asked why they failed and how come the secondary was not plumbed. About the secondary pan he said that i"t depends on the installation"... but he seemed to wonder what happened with that. As for the microswitches they all have floats. Funny thing is none worked and there was a clog. Will keep you posted after the visit by the tech.
  9. Mikebarone

    Mikebarone DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    206
    Location:
    Phoenix, AZ
    Thanks for the update!

    Huuuuum….the plot thickens….LOL. Thanks for the update. I’ll say it again; stick with the tech like glue, and watch everything he does. Especially if the original work was done wrong, and that’s what caused the drywall damage.

    Good luck for sure!

    Mike
  10. oreyes

    oreyes New Member

    Messages:
    14
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2008
  11. Mikebarone

    Mikebarone DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    206
    Location:
    Phoenix, AZ
    Just a thought...


    Like I hope I said before, I’m not an A/C guy, but it appears, (after looking at your first web site you found on the EZ crap…loved it) that the device should be installed, (like the name states) on a trap, and not like they have it installed on your secondary pan, (on a pipe that is capped off).
    I’m still a little confused on what you said on your first post about when you went up in the attic, the secondary pan was dry. After the tech does, whatever he is going to do, I sure would have him do a leak test on the secondary pan, and make sure it is level and that pan doesn't have a crack in it; that water got out of that pan somewhere.
    You might have that tech do water test on both switches too and make sure they are working correctly…shutting off the unit…sounding the alarm….turning on a light…whatever.

    Mike
  12. geno54

    geno54 New Member

    Messages:
    29
    Some of my observations


    Where did the water come through the cieling? Below the air handler or towards the outside wall? where the condensate drains out.

    Is the Air Handler level or pitched to the drain. I prefer pitched to the drain. This can be checked by opening the blower (while it is off) cover and pouring enough water ( 1 Gallon) in the pan to see how well it drains. If water drains to the opening then good, if drains to the other side then bad.

    Does the air handler sit completely in the drain pan with drain pan being a few inches larger than the air handler. The Lennox blowers are pretty big and sometimes are bigger than the typical 60 inch plastic pans. If drain opening was clogged water would drip out the back or front end and to the ceiling.

    I see the A/H is not hung which does not give much height for the condensate to drain. The condensate line probably runs level across the attic floor or joists. Not the best for draining. You may have height problems in the attic I don't see from the pics.

    Not a fan of plastic pans as they are too flimsy and prone to sagging and possibly cracking when not installed properly. I prefer metal.

    Would prefer to see a secondary line installed on the safety pan but as said before you have no height.

    EZ trap is good
    Float sw is good (Pan and trap)
    Vent after the trap is good especially for long and flat lines
  13. oreyes

    oreyes New Member

    Messages:
    14
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Info on Mimimum Clearances for HVAC Air Handler Install

    First of all let me apologize for not updating you guys sooner. The disaster happened in my office - I've been w/o phone service and w/o internet for the last two weeks since the second floor was in containment; twice for mold abatement purposes. I'm writing this from a local community college and would like some help from anyone that can offer it. The root cause of the water leak was a PVC - sch 40 drain line which was thrown out of pitch apparently by the weight of the ducts that were sitting on top of it. The install is extremely tight. One of the techs said the installers put 15 pounds of .... in a 5 pound bag. Since the drain line had a negative slope water accumulated and over the winter froze. One of the elbows (90 deg on horiz plane) cracked at the top and when the line got clogged this summer the water level rose to the top of the elbow where it was cracked and started dripping a pooling on the ceiling of my second fllor. The water damage is about 5 feet by five feet on the ceiling where the insulation got wet, then went down into a closet (12X8 front face wall had to be stripped) and down into a carpet that was ruined with mold too.

    After 2 air tests by an industrial hygienist and work by the abatement crew for the last 10 days, last Friday I still found mold and wet insulation along a 5ft area where the ceiling was cut. Here we go again... There is a lot more to the story ... I'll let you know when the book comes out - free copies for all here!

    What I'd like info on now is on the minimum recommended clearances for installation of HVAC units. These are spelled out in NFPA 90A and 90B; so far I've had no luck in getting access to these. Anyone knows what the clearances should be? Generally my unit is installed in the peak of a cape with a steeply pitched roof - don't know the exact pitch. The space between the rafters at horiz plane of the top of the of the HVAC unit is 42". Squatting in front of the long side of the unit the width at the bottom between the unit and the rafters at its widest is 39 inches - this is the space you have to squat in front of the unit, to service it. The "front" (cold air exhaust side) is inaccessble (unless you disconnedt ducting) due to it being littered with ducting. Only one side of the unit is accesible - where the the connections are - drains - liquid refrig etc. Any clues as to whether this is within minimum accepted clearances? More to come.. At this point I'm wondering whether the unit should have been istalled in that tight space at all to begin with. Thanks for your help.
  14. Mikebarone

    Mikebarone DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    206
    Location:
    Phoenix, AZ
    Just a thought...

    If I’m reading your post correctly, I would stick with the issue that caused all of your problems…the drain line that was installed incorrectly. If the drain line was installed incorrectly at the time of the install, and nothing after the fact may have changed the elevation of that line, (like if you had extra insulation installed after the fact, and someone else may have bumped or pushed that line) I sure would be looking at the installers for some answers to why that line was installed like that.
    There is a term that is called, “lattened defectâ€, (spelling?). That term means that even if the warranty on the installation of a product has expired, if it was installed wrong initially, the installers can still be held responsible.
    Now this, (depending on the installer’s integrity) may be something easy to resolve with them, (and their insurance company) or it may be something that may take getting a construction attorney involved. Most attorneys will give you a hour of free consultation, to see if your case is worth going after. In your case, where there has been a lot of cost, it may take an attorney. I don’t know if your homeowners insurance has picked up all of the costs, or if all of the costs of the repairs have come out of your pocket, so that would have to be your call on if and how to go after the installers.

    Good luck,

    Mike
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