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There’s Steam and Water Coming from our Air Conditioner – Whats Wrong?

Author Rod Marchant-Smith | Peninsula Air Conditioning

Potts Point resident, Greg asks

“We’ve noticed an unusual amount of steam and water leaking from our air conditioning unit outside. Body corporate said this was nothing to be concerned about, however we’re not so sure. Is there a problem with the unit?”

It’s easy to become concerned if you see water or steam coming out of your air conditioner.  What causes this is usually nothing to be worried about, so to help explain the cause, let’s take a closer look at how air conditioners actually work.

The condensate drain

Air conditioner indoor units all have what are called condensate drains.  When an indoor unit cools a room, it also removes humidity from the air.  A tray collects the water and funnels it down the condensate drain, emptying it outside into the yard or drain.  When you have the system running on the reverse cycle, as you would over winter, it’s different.  The indoor unit gets hot, and the outdoor unit gets cold.  This also causes condensation forming on the outdoor unit fan coil in this scenario.

Outdoor units come with a drain plug, which you can then attach a conduit to.  As mentioned, the purpose of the conduit is to drain water from the outdoor unit and channel it into the yard or outside drain.  Unfortunately, we see cases where installers cut corners and don’t bother to attach conduits or drain plugs.  Consequently, the water drips out of the drain plug hole in the centre, underneath the outdoor unit, and accumulates on the ground.  It’s unsightly, can lead to staining, and it can become slippery, which is dangerous.

If you see water coming from your outdoor unit, we’d recommend calling us to inspect the unit to see if the problem can be rectified.  In many cases, it simply means having to install the necessary conduit or piping and doing the job properly.

Steam however is a different matter.

Steam usually happens as a result of the system running on a defrost cycle. You’ll come across this in areas where the temperature drops significantly at night.  The system is designed to provide heat indoors, which involves the outdoor unit needing to cool.  But, the outdoor will likely be very cold already in cold weather and will be susceptible to icing up.

The system detects this and stops producing heat to the indoor unit.  To compensate, it produces heat on the outdoor unit to melt the ice before it can resume creating heat inside again.  This is whats known as the defrost cycle.  When this happens you might end up seeing what appears to be steam coming off the outdoor unit.

If you have a wall mounted split system and it’s leaking water, then it’s most likely that the condensate drain has become blocked.  Or, the tray for diverting that water has become dislodged.  In situations like this, we would strongly recommend calling us to inspect the unit and perform corrective work.  In fact, inspecting condensation drains and water trays is all included with our annual servicing and maintenance agreements.

Concerned about water and steam?

If your air conditioner unit is producing an unusual amount of steam or water and you are concerned, give us a call and we’ll have one of our friendly service technicians come out and inspect the unit for you.  We look forward to hearing from you.

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