Condensate traps: The poor cousin of central air conditioning systems

July 12, 2000
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The subject of condensate traps has been around for many years, and has received considerable attention in the trade press over the last 18 to 24 months, some of it direct, some tangential to the topic of IAQ.

There can be no doubt that correct drainage and/or treatment of the considerable amounts of condensate produced by a central system is an integral part of the effort to improve air quality.

There have been numerous articles relating to the necessity to eliminate as much standing water within the air system as possible in terms of correct design and installation of drain pans as well as traps, and the regular maintenance that should be applied to these components as part of a comprehensive service regimen.

It's a fact

It is a well-known fact that all manufacturers of central air conditioning systems require the fitting of a condensate trap, usually on both pressure and suction systems. Most of them cover this in detail in their installation manuals.

In fact, some of them even apply a decal to the side of their unit or air handler as well, on which they specify what size the trap should be and how it should be fitted.

It is an equally well-known fact that many contractors do not bother to fit traps on the premise that they are either not really necessary; or they are too much trouble to inspect, clean, and maintain after they have been fitted; or even, in some cases, simply because the codes don’t require them or aren’t enforced.

If one were to ask a/c equipment manufacturers if they accepted any of the above reasoning, the answer would undoubtedly be a resounding no. In fact, many of the current building codes recognize this and specifically mandate the use of traps.

Give the trap its due

When one considers the IAQ problem as well as the potential for damage from overflows and the resulting costs and inconvenience, condensate traps generally have not received anywhere near the attention they merit, from the manufacturers, code officials and, unfortunately, many contractors.

What is required is for manufacturers to give more precedence to the traps in their literature and installation manuals; for code officials to fortify and enforce the codes universally; and for contractors to fit them correctly as a normal part of their standard installation procedures.

The reality is that, today, improved traps are available which not only are easy to inspect, but are specifically designed for easy access and cleanability without disassembly.

The latest designs offer the service technician the ability to actually clean the drain pan outlet of the a/c unit without having to open the unit at all.

In addition, the continuing search for energy efficiency has led to the introduction of a new generation of air handlers, some of which require deeper traps to compensate for increased system pressure. These too are available as a standard off-the-shelf item incorporating the features enumerated above.

The savings in time and minimal inconvenience are obvious. It should be clear to anyone that the rationale for thinking of a condensate trap as a potential problem area no longer exists.

The need for traps is clearly there; the means for satisfying that need are now readily available; and the benefits are apparent.

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