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I recently replaced some rotted insulation on the coolant pipe that runs out of my AC unit and into the evaporator in my house. When cleaning inside the actual AC unit itself I noticed that the coolant pipe running out of what I believe is the condenser (has a insulation blanket over it) is not insulated. Is there any reason not to insulate this coolant pipe? I traced the line and made sure that it is the same pipe that is insulated once it gets outside the AC unit.

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So, why do you suppose your original insulation rotted? –  HerrBag May 14 '13 at 19:20
    
Not sure, bought the house last year in October and noticed it was that way from the exterior of the house into the AC unit. The insulation on the coolant pipe in my basement is still in perfect condition I replaced it with the closed cell foam, which seems to seal around the piping nicely. –  Salmonerd May 14 '13 at 19:57
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5 Answers

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This is the answer to your actual question:

"insulating the coolant pipe inside the actual AC unit itself."

As you correctly observed, if the outside pipe "should" be insulated (it should), then the inside pipe "should" also be insulated for all the same reasons everyone pointed out. However, the key is "should" vs "must." For argument's sake, say the outside pipe is 99 ft long and the inside pipe is 1 ft. Then the 99 ft pipe will absorb 99 times more heat from the outside air. So it's very important to insulate the outside pipe because it will absorb a lot of heat. It's not so important to insulate the inside pipe because it's so short it doesn't absorb much heat. Your AC would be slightly more efficient if you insulated the inside pipe -- but you get 99% of the benefit from insulating the outside, and only 1% of the benefit from insulating the inside pipe. Practically speaking, it's not enough benefit to make a difference.

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Thanks for the answer to my actual question. At least I know it will not hurt anything if I have the extra insulation laying around. –  Salmonerd Sep 12 '13 at 17:33
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The large, cold, low pressure line, carrying the evaporated coolant from the house, should be insulated to prevent condensation. The small, warm, high pressure line, carrying condensed coolant into the house, should not be insulated. I am not an air conditioning professional. However, en.allexperts.com, www.bobvila.com, and www.familyhandyman.com, all agree with me. See references below.

Explanation: The unit outside the house compresses the coolant from the large line. This makes the coolant very hot. Then the coolant is run through the condenser coils and the fan blows outside air over them to remove the heat and condense the coolant back to liquid. The small line now carries the warm liquid coolant back into the house. No insulation is needed on this line because it is still warmer than the outside air. If the air cools it some more, that only helps. In the house, the pressurized liquid coolant is allowed to rapidly decompress in the evaporator coil. The instant drop in pressure causes an instant drop in temperature, making the evaporator coil very cold. Interior air is blown over this coil, cooling the air and warming the coil and coolant. The evaporated coolant, which is still rather cold, now flows out of the house in the large pipe. It does not help us for this coolant to get warmer after it leaves the evaporator coils. It just makes it harder to compress and cool in the condenser coils. So we want to prevent condensation on this pipe. That is the reason for the insulation.

Image

From this site:

"the skinny tube doesn't need insulation"

From another source:

"As you have seen, the large refrigerant line carries cold vapor while air conditioning, and on a humid day it sweats. The main reason we insulate the pipe is to prevent humid air from coming into contact with it." "For the small copper tube you do not need insulation. Just make sure that it does not contact masonry or other metal."

The following site provides good step by step maintenance instructions.

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I know of no reason NOT to cover the pipe with insulation. Some pro's state it does not matter however I know for a fact that if your unit has poor air flow due to a clogged air filter or your freon gets low that pipe will actually freeze solid if there is no insulation covering it causing the entire system to fail and potentially causing damage. My previous unit had a two inch thick block of ice surrounding that foot and a half copper pipe in the middle of summer and it was 104 degrees outside.

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This isn't even close to correct. The insulation won't protect your unit from damage in the slightest. You are correct in that poor air flow will cause units to freeze up which may cause damage. –  Jacob Jun 4 '13 at 4:42
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You can insulate the "liquid line" (the smaller one from the unit to the evaporator) as it carries the refrigerant that has been cooled and compressed and ready to absorb more heat. It might improve efficiency in extreme heat situations, but more than likely it wouldn't be drastically noticeable. You do not however want to insulate the big line or "suction" line. This carries Freon back to the compressor to have heat removed, and if you can lose any of that to the environment before the compressor that is just increased efficiency back to you.

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I'll snap some pictures and diagrams for you tomorrow. –  Jacob Jun 4 '13 at 4:49
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You have it completely backwards. The large line carries the cooler refrigerant and therefore needs to be insulated to prevent condensation. –  longneck Jun 9 '13 at 18:36
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Any cool pipe in a basement will benefit from condensation reduction through insulation. Running a dehumidifier will also help. I have mine piped with a cut-off hose right over to the floor drain, and then connected to a right angle barb fitted with a 1" piece of hose going into the drain.

Hot water pipes will also benefit.

The closed cell (polyethylene) foam with the adhesive strips (covered by a pull-off protection strip) will last much longer and insulate better. You may still need an overlap wrap of tape at the butt joints. The open cell will work, but needs tape along length and is "crumblier".

Closed cell foam with adhesive

Open cell, no adhesive

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Not really an answer to what I was asking. I want to know about insulating the coolant pipe inside the actual AC unit itself. I already have the pipe insulated from outside the AC unit all the way to the evaporator. –  Salmonerd May 14 '13 at 19:15
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