If you’ve ever lived in a home in Irvine, CA, which should be all of us, you’ve likely walked past the hallway closet that stores the air handler and seen water seeping out from beneath the door.

Your response: “Argh, not again!”

Water intrusions originating from a home’s A/C closet are perhaps the most prevalent types of water intrusions homes tend to have. The extent of damage can range from nominal to serious depending on the amount of water leaked. And the real fear here is the development of mold and damaged material.

Your AC Air Handler and Water Leakage

One of the jobs of your home's A/C air handler (and more specifically the evaporator coil within it) is to absorb the heat from the air in your house, thereby producing cool air. In this process a substantial amount of water is produced. This water is then routed to a drain and piped outside the home. At least that’s what is supposed to happen, and often does, day in and day out, until you notice that it doesn’t. And that’s when you first learn, you have a problem. The good news is there are simple and easy solutions for addressing these common problems.

But, what’s going on?

An A/C air handler will leak for three typical reasons.

  • The evaporator coils are frozen over. If the air filter is overly dirty (note the importance of changing air filters regularly!) air cannot pass through as easily. This causes the coils to freeze, produces ice, then subsequently melts, dripping water into your hallway closet.
  • The piping is cracked and therefore leaks water. It is surprisingly easy to damage the piping beneath the air handler. Storing items in the closet, accidentally hitting the pipes over time creates cracks and then water leaks.
  • A clogged pipe. This is another typical problem in A/C air handler units. The wet and dark environment within the evaporator system produces the perfect climate for the development of slime and sludge. This slime is actually working to protect a colony of bacteria that enjoys consuming dust for food. This slime can easily and quickly clog your home's drain pipe.

Solutions to Addressing and Avoiding Leaks

To prevent your A/C air handler from freezing over it’s important to keep up with the maintenance on your machine, primarily changing the filter monthly. Some filters claim they are good for 60 to 90 days, but the life of your filter is more dependent on the amount of use your home gets. A visible check of your home’s A/C filter will let you know when it’s time to replace.

It’s important to check the pipes underneath, nothing complicated, but enough for you to understand that there are no visible cracks or signs of leakage.

Another way to maintain clean drains and avoid blockage is to use a cleaner to help break the build-up. A typical practice for most homeowners is using regular household bleach. Mixing a cup, one-part bleach, one-part water and pouring this mixture into the drain-line will maintain a clear passage.

If your pipe is in fact clogged using a vacuum to both suck and blow the line will clear the passage. In some homes, the use of these measures is considered general maintenance — something to be expected and planned for.