What Is A Condensate Pump?

Date Published: May 28, 2024

Did you know that lots of HVAC systems create condensate? Some systems even create so much water that a small box called a condensate pump is needed.

A condensate pump might be a small box, but it plays a big role in condensate drainage. But what exactly is it and what is its purpose? Well you’ve come to the right place, because this blog is all about condensate pumps. Let’s dive in!

What Is Condensate?

To understand what a condensate pump is, it helps to first know what condensate is. Condensate refers to the liquid that forms when steam or vapor in the air cools and condenses. It commonly occurs when warm air flows across a cold surface.

This happens on a daily basis in HVAC systems and appliances such as furnaces, air conditioners, refrigerators, water heaters, and dehumidifiers.

Mechanically induced condensation is normal and it is something these devices have drains for. This is even more relevant now where new furnaces have a sealed combustion chamber where water has nowhere to evaporate.  However, there isn’t always a great place to drain the water. So now what?

What Is a Condensate Pump?

As household appliances continually operate, their condensate byproduct will start to accumulate. This liquid needs to be efficiently removed to ensure the proper functioning and longevity of the equipment.

Some systems can dispose of the condensate simply through the use of gravity. A pipe (usually PVC) is fitted onto the unit, which then channels the liquid to a drain or designated disposal area, as shown below.

Image sourced from: https://forum.nachi.org

However, sometimes the nearest drainage option is not so convenient. For instance, you may have a furnace that is located in a basement, but all the drainage piping is one floor above. What do we do with all this condensate? This is where a condensate pump comes in handy.

A condensate pump is a motorized pump meant to collect the condensate from an appliance then push it to a drainage point. Because it is powered, it can move the excess liquid anywhere, even to higher elevations.

How Does It Work?

These pumps operate in a fairly simple but very effective manner.

  1. The condensate drains into the pump and accumulates in a collection tank.
  2. Once the liquid reaches a specified level, a built-in float will switch on and activate the motor.
  3. Upon activation, the motor will draw the liquid through a flexible hose, which will terminate at a designated drainage point such as a floor drain, a sink, or an external drainage system.
  4. The process will continue until the float switches off and indicates that the tank is empty.

The functionality is similar to many pumps in your home such as sump pumps and lift stations.

Why Is a Condensate Drainage Important?

Having the proper condensate drainage is important in several ways. First of all, it prevents water accumulation in the equipment that could otherwise lead to a number of water-related issues, such as leaks, structural damage or even mold growth.

It also helps to ensure that the equipment is operating efficiently without the hindrance of excess moisture. The water will accumulate no matter what so it needs to go somewhere.

Proper drainage also helps to extend the equipment’s lifespan, ensuring that no excess moisture will cause corrosion or other mechanical issues. By preventing the buildup of stagnant water, condensate drainage also helps to maintain better indoor air quality, reducing the risk of mold and mildew.

Because of this, ensuring your condensate drainage setup is functioning can make a big difference!

Inspecting Condensate Lines and Pumps

During our standard inspections, our inspectors always take a look at all heating and cooling systems. And that includes their condensate drainage. We want to see that a drainage line is connected properly and terminating at an acceptable point. Of course, if there is nowhere for it to drain via gravity, it must be set up with a condensate pump.

If a pump is present, we visually inspect the unit to see if the pump is doing its job correctly. We also inspect the drain line, which is usually made of a flexible plastic material, to ensure it is terminating at a proper location.

One key fact to remember is that condensate can be highly acidic. So much so, that it can corrode cast iron piping. Cast iron is very rarely used for plumbing in modern buildings, but it is still present in many older homes.

If our inspectors do notice that a condensate line is draining into cast iron piping, they will be sure to call it out and recommend installing a condensate neutralizer. A condensate neutralizer  (shown below) is a box or tube filled with pellets made of calcium carbonate, CO2, and salt that will neutralize acidic liquid as it passes through.

Condensate neutralizer on a tankless water heater. Image sourced from: https://www.condensateneutralizer.com

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About the Author: Chris Kimmel

Chris Kimmel worked as an Associate Home Inspector for two years, handling numerous services including sewer scope inspections, pest inspections, mold air sample testing, radon testing, and water quality testing. Chris now works with Scott Home Inspection as a Content Writing Specialist.

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