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Compressed Air Systems & Freezing Temps

Air Compressors and Cold Temperatures

In the winter, especially in the mid-west , if your system is not in a heated indoor environment, ambient air temperatures may drop below freezing. When this happens, your compressed air system may sustain both short-term and long-lasting damage.

Air Compressors in Cold Weather

Cold ambient temperatures have several effects on your air compressor.

1) Air Compressor Oil 

Air compressor oil becomes thicker as temperatures drop. This reduces its lubrication capabilities, thereby increasing the power needed to operate the pump.

2) Air Compressor Control Lines

In cold temperatures, the moisture in air compressor control lines can quickly freeze up, with adverse effects on system performance.

3) Rotary Screw Air Compressors

If your rotary screw air compressor won’t start in the winter, cold ambient temperatures are likely to blame. Rotary screw air compressors are often equipped with a low ambient air temperature limit switch (fault), which prevents the system from starting if ambient temperatures are below 40°F.

Compressed Air Accessories and Other Components in Cold Weather

All compressed air system components are vulnerable to damage in cold weather because of the way that condensate moves through the system. Frozen condensate can cause air or water blockages in air compressor accessories and receiver tanks.

Air compression system components are also more vulnerable to corrosion in cold weather. Because dryers are less efficient in the cold, moisture can build up and remain inside the system for longer than normal.

1) Drain Valves

As water freezes inside the drain valve, it can lead to cracking. Auto drain valves should be checked frequently for obstructions.

2) Compressed Air Filter

Ice in the filter will cause a restriction, preventing efficient airflow. Additionally, ice buildup can fracture the filter bowl and cause major pressure reductions in the plant.

3) Air Compressor Regulator

Freezing of the air compressor regulator can cause compromised production machine performance due to pressure swings.

Cold Weather Air Compressor Maintenance Tips

Damage to your compressed air system due to cold ambient temperatures can be expensive to repair and lead to unplanned shutdowns to your operations in the winter months. However, most of these impacts can be avoided with proper cold weather preventative maintenance for your air compressor, air dryer and accessories.

1) Weatherproofing Your Air Compressor Air Room

One solution is to prevent ambient temperatures around your compressed air system from dropping below 40°F by utilizing heaters or proper ventilation methods. This also may involve weatherproofing the area where your compressed air system is installed. The room does not need to be heated to the same levels needed for human comfort. However, maintaining temperatures around 45°F will go a long way towards keeping your air compression system in running order during the winter.

2) Cold-Proofing Your Air Compression System

If the area where your air compressor is installed cannot be easily kept above 40°F, you can take steps to cold-proof the system itself. These steps may include:

  • Install and use a low ambient air temperature limit switch (if available for your air compressor model). This will prevent permanent damage to the system from running in cold temperatures.
  • Install trace heating around pipes to prevent freezing and condensation. Trace heating for pipes can prevent ice obstructions and help your dryers work more efficiently.
  • Have your air compressor fitted with an internal sump heater to keep temperatures above 40°F.
  • Add appropriate insulation for pipes and other system components to reduce the risk of freezing.

Take care, be safe, and remember, when it comes to compressed air, We’ve Got You Covered!

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