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Running an air compressor during winter in nearly sub-zero temperatures can lead to issues within the compressed air system. These problems include freezing condensate, a surge in power consumption, and damaging air tools.

However, the fluids within the compressor itself and the condensate created in the compression process are the main factors that cause the air compressor to completely freeze and shut down. Condensate collects at low points in the system such as the compressor, separators, receivers, filters and dryers so these are all places it could freeze.

Here is a guide on how to troubleshoot and fix a frozen compressed air system.

How to Unfreeze Your Air Compressor

Inspect and Check Every Part of Your Compressor

First of all, thoroughly check your frozen air compressor in order to diagnose the problem; remember to check your air tools and hoses too. Along the way, you may find blocked pipes from frozen condensates, cracks or splits caused by frozen expanding fluids or a valve that has been frozen open or closed.

If you identify any permanent damage, like the cracks and splits, you may have to think about replacing parts.

Gently Raise the Ambient Temperature

As a general rule, if parts of the mechanism or the internal piping system has frozen, you can gently raise the temperature surrounding these areas to unfreeze them. You can do this by:

  1. First, shut off all external outside air sources and, if it is an enclosed unit, open up the doors of the compressor.
  2. Then, turn up or add a heat source to the area to get the ambient temperature above 7°C and add a heat source to where the oil is stored so the oil warms up to around 20°C.
  3. Next, once the compressor is warmed to a temperature above around 4-7°C, you may need to reset the alarm on the control panel.
  4. Finally, the air compressor should be good to start. When the compressor is running, inspect closely for leaks and check all condensate drain valves.

How to Prevent a Frozen Air Compressor

Ambient Temperature

The ambient temperature of your air compressor is the most important factor to stop it from freezing. The ambient temperature differs from the outside temperature, but it will still be cold if measures aren’t taken to properly heat, but also ventilate, the compressor room.

By using a small heater inside your compressor cabinet or room to keep the ambient temperature above 5°C, this will make sure that your air compressor will not freeze and still operate efficiently. Also, by insulating the pipes and air hoses, you can pre-emptively tackle any problems with cold ambient air temperatures.

An additional note would be to use trace heating on outside pipes to stop condensate from freezing within them and therefore preventing downstream ice and further problems. 

Regular Maintenance Checks

Regular maintenance checks are just that, regularly throughout the whole year! This includes maintaining oils, lubricants, dryers, filters and condensate as these can all have an impact on your compressor during the colder months.

Make sure that your oil and lubricants are always topped up. Efficient lubrication will avoid increased power consumption and choosing the right kind of oil for winter conditions will ensure it won’t thicken.

Dryers and filters remove water from the compressed air which consequently prevents it from freezing in sub-zero temperatures. So, it is a good idea to regularly clean or replace your filters to provide optimum efficiency and to keep an eye on your dryer.

Finally, regularly drain the condensate from your compressor system either manually or automatically. This will remove the risk of freezing condensate within the compressor and the pipework system.

Air Compressor Servicing from Air Power East

Even if you have cold weather preventative maintenance in place, you can never predict what the weather is going to do. A severe cold snap could still lead to a frozen air compressor, but performing regular maintenance and servicing will still benefit your system no matter what.

If you are having trouble with your frozen air compressor or would like to talk to us about our air compressor servicing, please contact us today.

Guide to Fixing a Frozen Air Compressor