Will My Outside AC Unit Die If It’s Not Level?

Out Of Level AC Units

These AC units have been operating in a very unlevel condition for many years. Funny how they are still working when all the other comments on the internet are saying they have to be level because of the oil in the bottom of the compressor.

Now are you asking yourself “do heat pumps need to be level?”

There is however a limit to how much a unit can run out of level, but all the unlevel air conditioner and heat pump units I come across are just aesthetically unlevel. Not a threat to the operation of the system.

Just use some common sense. Imagine if your car was unable to go up and down hills because of the oil in the engine.

True a cars engine has an oil pump, but compressors have a certain amount of oil in the bottom and that oil is moved through the refrigeration line and back to the compressor at the top, relubricating the compressor regardless of whether the outdoor ac units not level.

Remember the old warnings on the side of refrigerator boxes that said something to the effect of keeping the unit upright? Again, it’s being said on the internet (where everything is true of course) that the ac unit must be kept level.

Here’s just a little history on compressors. Early model compressors had the motors inside the compressor mounted on brackets that were simply sitting on the bracket, not tied or bolted down.

When the refrigerator was laid on it’s side, the motor would fall off the bracket and become inoperable unless it just coincidentally fell back onto the bracket. Well, if you’re familiar with Murphy’s Law you know that seldom happens.

So the early warnings about keeping a unit level had something to do with the motor staying on the brackets or mounts inside the compressor not necessarily anything about oil.

The oil will migrate into the refrigeration lines when laid on there side, but by setting the unit upright and waiting overnight it will drain back into the compressor.

Today’s compressors have simply changed a whole lot. Back when, compressors were of a reciprocating type, like a car engine, a piston moving up and down. Manufacturers began to bolt down these motors so they would stay perched on there mounts.

New technology has given us a much more efficient and longer lasting scroll type compressor. No longer does the problem exist that the motor will become dislodged.

A Good Reason Or Two Why Your AC Should Be Level

You don’t need a level here. It’s not hard to tell when a heat pump pad or ac unit pad is out of level. In fact the reason you’re reading this is because you are concerned about what to do if anything.

Now that you don’t have to loose any sleep over the immediate collapse of your HVAC system you can sit back and find some ways to correct the situation, or not.

Perhaps you are ready to sell your home or you just like things to look good. Aesthetics or appearance have a great deal to do with other people’s perception of ourselves and how good of shape the rest of our home is when they are looking to buy.

Not that we should live our lives by what others think, but there’s a certain feeling we get, I’m not sure, maybe like driving around in a dirty car. It’s a balance between too much vanity and not enough. Kind of like back to the common sense of things.

I just finished installing a new heat pump system for a customer. The old indoor air handler, which was an electric furnace, was clear out of kilter. My customer indicated that it wasn’t any big deal.

But not for me, oh no. I gutted the old furnace out and went to leveling the base to have a good platform. After setting the furnace I had about 2″ of offset to match up to the top return duct.

I built a nice transition on the job and then I could step back and say “well done”. It’s straight and plumb and any of his friends that see it that have a more critical eye will want to know who did that job.

The outdoor unit was set on a level pad with a good base and raisers were put under the unit to keep the unit a little above anticipated snow fall. Raisers also help the unit drain when defrosting in the winter.

You didn’t know why or that they did? Leak water in the winter that is. I wrote another article, imagine that. If yours doesn’t, you have a problem.

Risers or pump-ups have a sticky substance where they come in contact with the unit and the pad. This tar like stuff helps keep the unit sturdy and actually helps eliminate some vibration and noise. A sore spot with outdoor units for many years.

New pads and risers are available on Amazon. I’ve linked to those that I prefer for your convenience.

Your neighbors will love you or if that’s not what you want then think about the quiet peaceful operation in your own yard.

Some Tips On How To Level Your Outdoor Condenser

Everything in this article applies to either air conditioners or heat pumps. In the industry we refer to the outdoor air conditioners as condensers or if it’s a heat pump we call it an outdoor unit because it’s not a condenser when in the heating mode.

Not to get confusing and repeat myself, but heat pumps are only acting as a condenser in the summer. In the winter a heat pump systems outdoor unit is an evaporator. I have a guided tour of how a heat pump works if you care to take the time.

I’d suggest right off the bat, that you call an HVAC company (or two) and get a quote to raise and level your outdoor unit.

The critical part of lifting an AC unit off the ground is the refrigeration lines that connect the condenser to the air handler or furnace. Moving the unit too much could create a leak and an expensive repair.

A good technician will tell you if it’s even feasible to do. And, if your sneaky enough he may even spill out some unfiltered tips on how it can be done. Just in case your a big DIY’er.

Doing that is kind of unfair, but it will give you an idea if it’s what you want to tackle.

I’ve had several customers ask how much does it cost to level an AC unit pad along with what happens if your AC is not level? Lifting an ac unit off the ground doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. I wouldn’t think it should cost more than $100. But prices vary and so does skill.

I’ve lifted many of these units by my self and made them quite level. It’s a simple function of doing it just a little bit at a time. But get some help, or if you hate asking for help I’ve added some tips down below.

I get a couple of 2X4’s (whatever works) and some bricks or blocks. Start placing the 2X4’s under the unit, one on each side. Lift it up a corner at a time with the bricks under the two by fours.

This is a quick easy way to facilitate an air conditioner pad installation.

If your 2X4’s are long enough it gives you a lot of leverage to lift slowly and safely. The units are easy to lift a corner at a time. Get the picture?

I set this up just to demonstrate the method. This unit has no connection to a furnace. It’s just an old dead unit ready for the scrap yard. You should use extreme caution when using this method to not kink refrigeration lines.

You can even replace a pad this way. Everybody’s got a little bit different soil and maybe your soil is the reason for your unit has become out of kilter. This idea can work pretty good for some soils, just get a couple bags of ready mix and throw under the pad, dampen it down and set the pad.

Putting a little concrete under an AC unit will help decrease erosion and helps makes a great base. You don’t have to make forms or get too serious, just throw that ready mix in with the dirt. As the moisture hits it and drys later it will harden.

And just an additional tip: Use 3″ risers on air conditioners and 6″ or more risers on heat pumps. You get a benefit of quieter, cleaner, longer lasting unit.

So How Level Does A Condenser Need To Be?

Well it shouldn’t slip of the pad and it should look like you care. I know that sounds ridiculous but so is saying a heat pump outdoor unit must be level. Putting a level on the unit and being so critical as to making sure the bubble is between the lines is kind of OCD. But it’s not a bad thing.

Doing a neat job just pays off in the end and takes on the appearance of greater value.

Chad Peterson

Chad Peterson is near 40 year veteran of the HVAC industry. "I like to explain heating and air conditioning problems in a way the average home owner can understand. "

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