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.