Maintaining Air Compressor Performance and Efficiency in Winter

air compressor

Frozen lines. Cracked pipes. Slow starting compressors. Or worse, compressors that won’t start at all. Winter can be difficult on compressed air systems—even here in the South. Most air compressor equipment should be kept above 40º F to maintain efficient operation and avoid costly breakdowns. As we enter the coldest months of the year, it’s important to winterize your system and know what maintenance needs to be performed throughout the winter season to protect your investment.

Why Is Winter a Problem for Air Compressors?

  • Moisture:

The process of compressing air naturally creates moisture. If not removed, even a small amount of condensate can freeze in the drains, tank, pipes or other parts of the system. This frozen condensate expands to create blockages, warping and cracking that prevent the compressor from functioning properly.

  • Lubrication:

During the cold winter months, lubricants often thicken and provide less value to the motor. Sludge-like oil can cause wear and tear on equipment, increase energy usage, trip circuit breakers and limit performance.

Compressors located outside or in poorly insulated rooms are particularly vulnerable to winter condensate and lubricant issues, but there are ways to minimize your chances of suddenly needing emergency service. 

Winterizing Your Compressed Air System

Having a professional compressed air company perform winter maintenance before issues arise is the first step to protecting your equipment. They’ll assess the following:

Condensate Drains: All system drains should be checked for clogs that could cause moisture to accumulate and freeze. It’s important to remember the drains and bowls outside and consider applying heat trace tape to any drain lines that are exposed to the elements.

Weather Stripping and Insulation: All weather stripping and insulation should be inspected and replaced if damaged or missing.

Heating: A cabinet heater may be able to be added to help preheat lubricant. Or you might need to provide ambient heating safely away from the compressor. If your compressor is outside, heat lamps may help to keep controls from freezing.

Filters: Clean, properly working filters are essential for removing dust, oil and moisture from your system. Additionally, ice and water can accumulate on clogged filters.

Air Dryers: Dryers can be especially beneficial in cold temperatures. Adding a new dryer could help avoid moisture buildup on system components.

Air Receivers: Compressed air receivers should be inspected to avoid condensation from settling and freezing at the bottom of the tank.

Lubricant: Lubricant should be checked for flow. Thick or icy lubricant will not properly lubricate the compressor and may reduce the life of the system.

Heat Recovery: Believe it or not, it may be possible to heat your compressor room and equipment with the heat given off by your system itself.

Ongoing Winter Maintenance for Compressed Air Systems

Keeping your system running smoothly during freezing temperatures goes well beyond initial winterizing efforts and will require a time investment on your part:

  • Before starting the air compressor, always inspect the system for moisture and ice
  • Drain condensate daily if you do not have an automatic drainage system (even if you do, check often for obstructions)
  • Check oil levels regularly as many compressors use more oil in the winter
  • Inspect for leaks often

If you haven’t yet winterized your system or have questions about how to best protect your compressed air equipment from being impacted by cold weather, contact us or call 800.222.4553. Our factory-trained technicians are pros at keeping you up and running.

Why You Need to Evaluate Your Energy Efficiency

The way compressed air is made has not changed for many years. The oil flooded rotary screw is by far the most popular method and is the industry’s standard today. What has changed is the technology and improvements in rotor design, compressor controls, motor efficiency and variable speed drives. Most plants are running the same compressors they purchased 15 to 20 years ago and most are running more horse power than they need. Even though your compressors are doing a great job and are very reliable, there are ways to make them run more efficiently.

Power Consumption Graph

Power Consumption Graph

Master Controller - Used to control all compressors in the most energy efficient cycles

Master Controller – Used to control all compressors in the most energy efficient cycles

The first step is to have your compressed air system evaluated. A Level I evaluation consists of a job site visit and a walk through of your compressor room and plant. This is done free of charge.  Helpful recommendations can sometimes be made from this evaluation. We are looking for the following: How are your compressors operating? Load/No Load or Modulation control. Do you have enough air storage capacity? Is your air piping adequate? Will a master controller or a flow control valve work for your plant? Would a variable speed compressor work best? All these items are addressed during the visit. If we feel it’s necessary, we will recommend a Level II air study or energy air audit. This study will determine exactly how much cubic feet per minute (cfm) your plant is using. Our data loggers will be installed and take readings every 12 seconds for one week. We are measuring and logging flow (cfm), k/W (compressor amps), and plant pressure (psig). From this we can determine how efficiently your compressors are operating and how energy efficient we can make your plant operate after our recommendations are implemented. A return on investment (ROI) is also determined.

Your air compressors are one of the greatest energy users in your plant. If you can cut the cost of producing compressed air by 15% to 20%, you can see significant savings in overall costs. To get started, contact your local branch and request a Level I evaluation today.