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Condensate Pumps: Everything You Need to Know

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Mar 9, 2023

If you have an HVAC system, you probably already know the importance of regular maintenance and upkeep to keep it running efficiently. One crucial component of an HVAC system that often goes overlooked is the condensate pump. A condensate pump is a device used to remove the water that accumulates in an air conditioner or furnace during operation. Without a functioning condensate pump, your HVAC system may not work correctly and could even lead to water damage in your home.

In this article, we'll take a closer look at condensate pumps, how they work, and why they're so necessary for your HVAC system's performance.

Table of Contents

  1. What are Condensate Pumps?
  2. How do Condensate Pumps Work?
  3. What are the two types of condensate pumps?
  4. How do you install a condensate pump?
  5. How often should a condensate pump run?
  6. How do you clean a condensate pump?
  7. What happens if my condensate pump fails?
  8. How much do condensate pumps cost?
  9. How do you maintain a condensate pump?
  10. How long do condensate pumps last?

What are Condensate Pumps?

Condensate pumps are devices that remove water that collects in an HVAC system during operation. This water, known as condensate, is a natural byproduct of the cooling process. Without a condensate pump, this water would accumulate and eventually overflow from the collection pan, causing damage to your HVAC system and potentially your home.

How do Condensate Pumps Work?

Condensate pumps use a small motor to move water from the collection pan to a drain or discharge point. As the water level in the collection pan rises, the condensate pump is activated and begins pumping water out of the pan. Once the water level in the collection pan falls to a certain level, the pump turns off until it's needed again.

Condensate Pump by Santa Fe
Condensate Pump by Santa Fe

What are the two types of condensate pumps?

There are two main types of condensate pumps: gravity-fed pumps and pump-assisted pumps.

Gravity-fed pumps: These pumps rely on gravity to move water from the collection pan to a drain or discharge point. They're typically installed in attics or other high points in the home, where the water can naturally flow downwards.

Pump-assisted pumps: These pumps use a motor to move water from the collection pan to a drain or discharge point. They're typically used in areas where gravity-fed pumps aren't practical or efficient.

Some of the most common condensate pumps on the market today have a two-stage switch that helps to ensure that the condensate liquid does not accumulate near your HVAC equipment. During the first stage, the pump will be activated once the condensate liquid reaches the designated level. Suppose the pump does not activate due to malfunction, blockage, or some other problem, and the condensate liquid continues to rise to a higher level. In that case, a second stage switch is engaged where the pump is either shut off, or an alarm triggered to alert the homeowner that something is wrong with the system.

All condensate pumps on the market today are fully automatic. Furthermore, smart condensate pumps on the market today can connect to your smart home automation hub to send alerts on malfunctions or blockage directly to your smartphone.

How do you install a condensate pump?

Installing a condensate pump requires a fair amount of electrical and plumbing knowledge. If you want to attempt to install the condensate pump on your own, you must first locate the outlet port where the water exits on your HVAC equipment. Next, you must attach the proper-size PVC pipe that will move the water from the outlet port down into the condensate pump. It is important that the pump needs to be lower than the outlet port so that this drainage can happen via gravity. Next, attach plastic tubing between the exit port of the condensate pump and the other end to the nearest drain.

Check out this YouTube video for a complete explanation of the installation of a condensate pump.

Condensate Pump by Little Giant
Condensate Pump by Little Giant

How often should a condensate pump run?

The frequency with which a condensate pump cycles on and off varies widely depending on the circumstances. Expect somewhere between four and several dozen cycles per day. A condensate pump should never run continuously.

Your condensate pump's cycle frequency depends on the relative humidity levels of your home, where your HVAC equipment is located, the type of HVAC equipment attached to, and other similar issues. For example, suppose you have installed a humidifier on your furnace. In that case, the condensate pump may cycle every 4-5 minutes during winter when cold exterior temperatures and the humidifier working at a 50 percent duty cycle lead to more significant condensation. In ordinary circumstances, however, a condensate pump should run less frequently (4-5 times per day during the winter).

How do you clean a condensate pump?

Condensate pumps can become clogged by dirt, debris, algae, or other items that can impede the pump's pump's ability to remove condensate liquid from around your HVAC equipment. To clean your condensate pump, you will need to inspect the condensate pump for water, disconnect the PVC tubing connected to the reservoir, rinse the reservoir, and remove any noticeable clogs. Make sure to reconnect the drain lines correctly to avoid unwanted water damage in the future.

Little Giant Condensate Pump, AMRE Supply
Little Giant Condensate Pump, AMRE Supply

What happens if my condensate pump fails?

If your condensate pump fails, water will begin to accumulate in the collection pan, potentially causing damage to your HVAC system and home.

One of the most obvious signs that your condensate pump is no longer working is when you notice pools of liquid around your HVAC equipment where the pump is located. This means the pump is not moving the condensate liquid, which has overflown the reservoir. Another way to discover that your condensate pump is not working is when your air conditioner, furnace, or boiler will not turn on. Many HVAC manufacturers incorporate this safety measure to help prevent the pump's water reservoir from overflowing and creating puddles. The excess liquid continuously released around your home could quickly lead to mold and mildew damage.

Santa Fe Condensate Pump
Santa Fe Condensate Pump

How much do condensate pumps cost?

You can find decent-quality condensate pumps for around $100 to $200.

We sell the Santa Fe condensate pump kit at Rise for $134. This pump is designed to remove excess condensate and can pump vertically more than 12 feet with an overall maximum distance of 20 feet. It is ideal for rerouting excess condensate away from humidifiers. If you have to move condensate further distances, or if you also have to replace drainage lines, you should expect to pay significantly more.

How do you maintain a condensate pump?

Condensate pumps are generally pretty reliable, but doing some simple maintenance is essential to prolong their lifespan. Once you have disconnected the condensate pump, a simple bottlebrush can be used to the openings where drain lines connect. Make sure to remove any debris and algae. Also, unclogging any visible blockages and water rinsing can help keep your pump clean.

Once the pump is dry, you can use compressed air to remove dirt, dust, and other debris, especially around the pump motor vents. If algae continuously plug up your condensate pump, consider purchasing algae tabs and placing those in the reservoir. This inhibits the growth of algae, thus reducing the risk of problems. Before starting up the pump again, make sure to pour clean water through the opening in the reservoir to activate the pump. As you do this, you can also check for leaks in the pump and connections.

How long do condensate pumps last?

A condensate pump can easily last 20-30 years with proper care and maintenance.

Make sure to clean regularly, use algae tabs in your reservoir, and disconnect the pump immediately if you notice it running constantly. These maintenance tasks will prolong the lifespan of the pump.

Understanding the importance of condensate pumps and how they work is crucial for maintaining the efficiency and safety of your HVAC system. Regular maintenance and inspection by a professional HVAC technician can ensure your condensate pump is functioning correctly and prevent potential damage to your home. If you're experiencing any issues with your condensate pump, don't hesitate to call a professional for assistance.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2023-05-08T13:13:56+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.

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