DennisBeaverNovember 22, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver

One of the great things about air-conditioning is an increase in comfort due to reduced temperature and humidity as refrigeration extracts moisture from the air through condensation. That water must go somewhere, as the Jennings family would discover.

“We’ve got water in the hallway, coming from the closet where the hot water heater and A/C is located. The pan under the heater has water pouring out of it, and the carpet is soaked! Come home right away!” his wife, in a panic, texted.

Thirty minutes later, Ray Jennings found water overflowing the pan under the water heater, soaking the hallway and bedroom carpeting. Fortunately, a few months remained on its 9-year guarantee, so “I called our plumber and a few hours later, we a new hot water heater, blowers going to dry the carpet — preventing mold — and his $300 bill.”

Later that evening, Ray at first thought his wife was joking when she said, “I don’t believe this! The new hot water heater is leaking! We’ve got water everywhere!”

Ray called the plumber who raced back to their home and announced:

“It’s not the water heater. Before, it was impossible to see where the water was coming from, but now I know.”

There was nothing wrong with the old or the new hot water heater, yet all signs pointed to a leak, a really big leak. But appearances are often deceiving.

In July, the family had their 10-year-old air conditioner serviced, which included “blowing out” the condensation drain line with compressed nitrogen gas. They lived in their house over 35 years — never having a problem with the drain line becoming plugged, but being sure that it is open is an important part of routine maintenance.

They were informed by the technician that an expansion value, also known as a TXV, needed to be replaced. This repair was accomplished a few days later.

Stephen Stout, president of Hanford-based Kennies Indoor Comfort Specialists, describes this as “A messy, four-hour job where a large part of the system is taken apart to reach the TXV, but once replaced, the system functions as intended, efficiently and removing much more moisture from the air.”

Stout notes that, “An air conditioning system can produce over a gallon of water an hour which is disposed of through the drain line. But if it becomes clogged or partially blocked and the unit produces more water than can the line can handle, the overflow of water can lead to damaged floors and carpeting.”

And, I’ll bet you are thinking, “But what’s the connection between the A/C drain line and the water heater?”
The plumber pointed out that the A/C condensation drain pipe in this 50-year-old house was something he had never seen before and had two functions: Carrying condensation outside and draining into the water heater pan in the event of leak.

But all that water – remember, over a gallon an hour – wasn’t draining outside, instead, it went in the direction of the pan, spilling out and flooding the hallway.

“As the air conditioner was off when we removed and replaced the water heater, there was no way to know that it was the source of the water,” he explained, adding, “Call the A/C company now, as they need to come right over and blow out that drain line.”

Our readers were home when both jobs were performed. “But after the TXV repair, they did not blow the line out to make sure it was clear, but did when returning after the flood.”

To Stephen Stout, “This is a rare occurrence. However, with a very old system, when you start disturbing it, you can knock rust, debris, dirt, a lot of stuff loose which could plug it up.”

We asked him, “Now, as we have a system working better, producing more condensate, would you agree they should have blown it out after the repair, and, potentially, even returned a few days later to repeat the process, just to be sure the line was clear?”

Stout replied, “It’s not a bad idea and certainly appeared to be necessary.”

Stout was one of many HVAC contractors we spoke with, all agreeing that, at the least the plumber’s $300 charge should be split, or for customer goodwill, the entire amount reimbursed.

We took these comments to the family’s A/C contractor. He picked up the entire charge — reluctantly and after blaming the plumber!

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.