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Cold Weather Impacts on Air Compressor Systems


Did you know that the ideal operating temperature for a compressor typically ranges between 40° to 95° degrees Fahrenheit? This means that winter’s frigid temperatures can have a substantial impact on your compressed air system, especially if the ambient temperatures in your compressor room fall below this range. Time to explore what the well-known phrase “Winter is Coming” means for your air compressors!

How Do the Cold Temperatures Impact My Compressor System?

Plunging winter temperatures can cause both short-term and long-term damage to your air compressors. One key example is frozen condensate, which can clog/crack critical components within the larger compressor system. Other components such as control lines, drain valves, compressed air filters, and heat exchangers are also at risk of freezing and cracking. Other potential damage from cold ambient temperatures include:

  • Air Compressor Not Turning On. Have a rotary screw compressor that’s refusing to start in the cold? There’s a good chance this is due to the low ambient air temperature limit switch (which many screw compressors are equipped with), which prevents the compressor from starting if the ambient conditions are below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Air Compressor Oil Getting Thicker. The colder the temperatures, the thicker the oil! Thicker compressor oil results in less lubrication ability, which then means it takes more power to operate the compressor pump. Keep an eye on this – the motor’s lifetime can decrease if this continues for a long period of time.
  • Refrigerated Air Dryers Operating Too Efficiently. Refrigerant air dryers are at risk of operating too well in winter conditions; when the moisture is withdrawn from the compressed air, it can become frozen and damage the larger drying system.
  • Decreased Drying Capacity in Desiccant Air Dryers. Wet incoming air places can freeze inside desiccant air dryer piping, causing tower switching valves to malfunction. The discharge air purge mufflers can also freeze, which would result in reduced purge airflow.
  • Component Corrosion. Because air dryers operate less efficiently in colder temperatures, there is a greater chance for increased condensate throughout the compressor system. As time passes and the moisture levels continue to increase, internal components are more likely to rust and corrode.

Tips for Prepping Your Air Compressor for the Cold Weather

  • Drain Condensate. Condensate is a common occurrence in air compressors. It forms in the system and settles in low places, including tanks. In the winter, unaddressed condensate can freeze and burst pipes. It’s important to inspect your tanks several times each week during winter – as well as throughout the other months of the year – to ensure that condensation buildup doesn’t occur. If even the slightest amount of moisture accumulates, drain it immediately. Whenever an abundance of moisture appears within the span of a couple days, it could be a sign of something much worse within your system. You can also consider installing an automatic drainage valve; it’s a small fix that will prevent the need for larger repairs.
  • Winterize the Outside Pipes and Condensate Drains. If temperatures in your area are expected to drop to freezing levels, apply heat trace tape over any exposed parts of your drain lines; this will stop them from freezing. Insulate any outside pipes as well!
  • Frozen Water & Icy Oil. Of all the issues that tend to arise when temperatures drop below freezing, one of the most troubling has to do with water and oil. It’s essential to do timely assessments of every location where liquid could be isolated and to identify any possible areas where leaks might occur. Oil temperature should also be monitored and regulated; else, the oil could drop to a coldness level that renders it unable to lubricate or seal the machinery. Icy oil can also cause a compressor to malfunction or stop working altogether.
  • Heat Your Compressor. If your compressor is in an unheated room, a small space heater can offer additional warmth to prevent the temperature dropping below 41°F.
  • Use Trace Heating. Trace heating on pipes can help prevent freezing throughout the air compressor and distribution system. This is especially important if any pipes pass through cold or outdoor areas where they could freeze and pass ice particles down the line to end-uses.
  • Know Your Dew Points. Winter months require a lower dew point. A compressor that works sufficiently during daytime temperatures might prove insufficient after dusk! Some facilities also have systems where compressed air is sent from one point to another with lines that go both inside and outside of the facility. In these kinds of plants, the system handles two differing temperatures simultaneously with the same equipment. Generally, a compressed air system should have its dew point set at least 20 degrees below the lowest expected.

Need assistance in prepping your compressor system for winter? We can help. Reach out to us at www.atlascopco.com/air-usa!

About the Author. Katie Falcon is the contributing writer and editor for The Compressed Air Blog. She currently works at Atlas Copco Compressors as a Digital Marketing Specialist specializing in content creation and platform development. Reach her via email at katie.falcon@atlascopco.com. Carlo Piccolo, a Product Marketing Manager for Atlas Copco Compressors, is the contributing technical writer and can be reached at carlo.piccolo@atlascopco.com. 


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