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How to Protect AC Units from Salt Damage

Air conditioner repairs in Panama City Beach and other coastal areas may have a different cause than those who live further inland.  The outside part of a residential air conditioner unit is called the condenser and consists of two major components. These are the compressor and the condenser coil.  For residents who live within about five miles of the Gulf Coast, salt in the air can cause major damage to condenser coils. Even households near bays and inlets can be plagued by the salty air.  The affected areas will just be much less than the five miles previously stated. Here is some information to help protect AC units from salt damage.

Why Salt is Bad for AC Systems

For air conditioners to work, they have to be able to dissipate heat that has been removed from indoors and transported, through copper pipes, to the condenser.  Here is where the condenser coil comes into play. By nature, aluminum has a very high heat dissipation capability and the thinner the aluminum, the quicker the air can remove the heat.  That is why the fins on coils are as thin as they are. After the heat is removed the, now cold, refrigerant is pumped back inside to repeat the process indefinitely until the desired temperature inside is reached.

AC Diagram

This design works well all over the world, but runs into issues along salty coastlines.  This is because salt carried by the air consists of sodium chloride. When sodium chloride and aluminum interact, they create a chemical reaction in the form of corrosion and pitting. This reaction destroys the aluminum.  The corrosion acts similar to a blanket and insulates the aluminum so that the heat cannot dissipate as easily.

Protect AC Units from Salt Damage

As the corrosion increases and builds up, the cost to run the HVAC system increases.  To begin with, the average person may not even notice what is happening. By the time the electricity bills start to increase and the AC unit starts breaking, the condenser coil is probably fairly well coated with a white dust and it is most likely too late for that coil to be saved.  This is why preventative measures that are taken early on are the best bet to deal with this issue.

How to Limit AC Repairs from Salty Air

There is no way to completely stop the salty air from eventually destroying an AC unit. There are some ways to slow it down though.  In turn, keeping your recurring electric costs down.

  • Construct a mist barrier
  • Wash regularly with fresh water
  • Apply protective washes or coatings
  • Hire HVAC company to apply industrial strength coating
  • Purchase copper condenser coil

Mist Barrier

If you are located directly on the water, you may experience an actual salty mist that coats everything.  One of the easiest ways to protect your unit from this is to create a mist barrier on the water side of your coastal air conditioner unit.  This will not stop the salt in the air. But it can substantially reduce the amount that gets deposited on your HVAC system. If you do choose to implement this idea, please remember that adequate space does need to be left for access by any AC technicians.

Hose it Down

Another easy and low cost method to protect AC units from salt damage, is to give the unit a hose down with fresh water on a regular basis.  The more frequently you can do this, the better. Don’t over do it, water contains minerals, these can be just as bad if limescale develops on your coil.  If you have an automatic sprinkler system, you may consider positioning the heads to avoid coating your condenser coil with minerals every time your plants are being watered.  Quarterly or even monthly hose down should help extend the life of your coil.

Protective Washes

There are products on the market that claim to remove salt buildup or introduce anticorrosive properties to your system.  These washes typically require quarterly to annual reapplication depending on the brand. Beahan’s Heat and Air has not tested or looked into these products.  If you would like to try them, it is recommended to research the products and find reviews from prior customers before purchase.

Industrial Coating

If you are interested in getting an industrial strength coating, you can usually hire a professional AC company to do it.  These coatings will add very thin layers of a material that is resistant to corrosion, such as silica.  Applying coatings such as these must be done by a professional technician. Because if too thick of an application is applied, it will reduce the thermal capacity of the coil.  Professional coatings can range from replacement coils that are completely dipped into a solution at the factory, to a spray on coating that can be applied after installation.  Some manufacturers have units that are already coated and are available for purchase from your contractor.

Copper Coils

Some units have all copper coils that can be purchased for an increased cost.  These coils eliminate the aluminum fins and incorporate copper ones. Although copper will still corrode, it will do so at a much slower rate.  The downsides are that copper coils are not available for all makes and models. They will also most likely run about twice the price of an aluminum coil.

Wrap up

As stated earlier, there is no way to completely stop the salt damage from happening.  There are some ways that you can protect AC units from salt damage though. These ways include building a mist barrier, hosing the unit down, applying protective washes, getting an industrial coating, and installing an all copper coil.  Some of these remedies are easily implemented by the owner, whereas some of them require HVAC professionals to complete. If you are interested in trying to protect AC units from salt damage, contact Beahan’s Heat and Air, and we’ll help you decide what will provide you the best benefit for your situation.

Unfortunately it will be too late for some AC units to be saved. If this is the case, they will most likely not live up to their full potential.  If your system dies prematurely from corrosion related issues, you should get a replacement that is designed from the factory to combat salty environments.  Ask your HVAC professionals if this would be a viable solution for you.

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