How salt air is damaging your HVAC units—and what to do about it

Robert Martin

With summer winding down, we’re already missing days spent lounging at the beach. But while we’ve been enjoying the salt air, it’s also been causing damage to your HVAC units.

Salty water from the ocean contains large amounts of sodium chloride (i.e., salt) particles. Moist air from the sea carries salt particles which create a dust-like film on the surface of your HVAC equipment. And this film of salt attracts moisture. The combination of salt and water leads to corrosion and deterioration of metals like aluminum, copper, and steel—the very materials that many parts of your HVAC units are made of.

The air condensing unit of your HVAC system is the most susceptible to the problem of saltwater damage. The condenser is composed of copper tubes which are attached to aluminum fins that spin to dissipate heat rapidly. Upon exposure to salt and moister, the contact between the copper and aluminum starts to erode, and the damage may end up leaking refrigerants or causing high head pressure problems with the unit.

And the damage has a ripple effect. Corroded coils hinder the efficient flow of air and consequently reduce heat transfer. This can lead to additional damage to other parts of the rooftop or split system units. The damages culminate in reduced efficiency of the system—an in a worst-case scenario, complete failure.

Signs of HVAC damage

  • Poor circulation
  • Poor performance or poor cooling effects
  • HVAC parts start to fail
  • The HVAC freezes or parts begin to ice up
  • Pockmarks begin to emerge on the equipment surfaces

If you reside near the sea, the above signs could indicate saltwater damage that could shorten the lifespan of your HVAC equipment. Units that would typically last more than ten years could see their lifespan reduced to just five years or less.

How to protect your HVAC from saltwater damage

HVAC units are a significant investment, and you don’t want your units to fail prematurely. Here are ways you can protect your HVAC unit from saltwater damage.

1. Schedule regular HVAC maintenance

We recommend regular maintenance for all HVAC units. During maintenance, the technician will examine your equipment and detect any potential problems. Regular inspections help prevent damages before they occur. During maintenance, the technician will rinse the system and clean it in a way that protects your unit from saltwater.

2. Clean and wipe the coils

This is the easiest and least expensive way to maintain your HVAC unit since the salt film is easy to wash and wipe off. You can hose your system down with fresh water on a regular basis (quarterly or monthly) to prolong the life of your HVAC’s coil.

3. Purchase the right HVAC unit

If you live within 50 miles of the coast, you need to do some additional research before purchasing a unit. Some manufacturers build air conditioners that can withstand natural elements, like saltwater damage. You can purchase coated coils that are dipped into a solution at the factory that can provide up to five years of extended life. You can also apply some application in place on a roof to help maximize the lifespan of the unit. 

4. Install in the right location

The location of an outdoor unit has a significant impact in preventing saltwater damage. HVAC professionals understand the best installation location for outdoor units in commercial buildings and residential homes near the ocean. For example, they can install the unit in a way that your building serves as a barrier to the ocean winds. This installation prevents corrosion and salt buildup. 

5. Apply an anti-corrosion coat

You can also have a technician apply a protective coating to specific parts to prevent them from corrosion—for example, aluminum oxide coating for aluminum parts and iron oxide coating for iron parts. The coat protects the system from damage and improves its efficiency.