Changing the condensate pump on your central air conditioning unit takes less time than cooking a microwave dinner. They come ready to go and are a very affordable way (usually under $60) to begin troubleshooting an ailing AC unit.

The condensate pump on your a/c unit collects condensation that builds on the coils and pumps it up and outside (either by way of a sum pump or PVC piping that drains directly outside). If your a/c unit has been acting up – either shutting off altogether, or leaving puddles of water around the unit (especially after shut-off) – it could very well be a failing condensate pump.

One you’ve purchased the pump (generally a one size fits all 115 volt), you will see that there are two main tubes connected to the top of the pump. One is a hard PVC pipe running from the unit to the pump that is the conduit in which the condensation flows downward. The other is thin, clear flexible tubing in which the water flows up and out.

You will also see that there are two electrical connections to the pump – one is a basic cord that plugs into a standard outlet. The other is a short, thin, two-pronged wire, usually capped with u-shaped speed connectors. These short wires are intended to be connected to a point inside the unit as an emergency preventive measure against a power outage or a system failure. If the pump fails for whatever reason, this connection will detect rising water and shut the entire unit down to prevent flooding around the unit.

All you need to do to change out the old pump is to unplug it from the electrical outlet, pull out the PVC pipe and flexible tubing and plug it all back into the new pump as it was. If your flexible tubing is looking dingy, new pumps come with a replacement tube and while it takes a little longer to replace the entire line, it is still simply a matter of unplugging the old and plugging in the new at each end.

You will also find four plastic discs at the corners of the pump. These should be popped out and removed from the unit.

With regard to the two-pronged connector: If you already have long wires running from your unit, you can simply untwist them and reconnect them to the new pump (be sure to turn off the breaker to the air handler first). The u-shaped speed connectors can just be pulled off. If you do not currently have the emergency wiring running from the unit, it is best to get a professional HVAC person or electrician to do this for you. The wiring inside can be tricky and it is essential that the proper connection is made. You can also – as most people do – leave the two-pronged wires unattached as the emergency connection is not essential to the function of the air conditioner. If the unit is in a finished basement, on fine flooring or carpet – or in a commercial space that is not regularly attended, connecting the emergency shut off may be a good idea.

That’s pretty much it! Replacing the condensate pump in your central air conditioning unit could save you hundreds of dollars in professional estimate and repair fees – and potentially thousands of dollars if you deal with an unscrupulous technician who is gunning for an unnecessary total replacement job. And, most reputable dealers will take back the pump if it does not remedy the problem.