How to troubleshoot a condenser's water flow on a chiller

Written by chuck brown
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How to troubleshoot a condenser's water flow on a chiller
Without a clean water source, a water-cooled chiller requires more frequent maintenance. (Clean water and water bubbles in blue image by Suto Norbert from

Chillers are used across a wide spectrum of industries. Their primary function is to remove heat. This heat removal either stabilises the object or product in its current state, or it extends and maintains the quality of the current state. For instance, in the restaurant business, chillers are used to preserve the quality of meats, cheeses and produce. A chiller that is water cooled releases the heat into water instead of into the air. The key component of any water-cooled chiller is a pristine, quality water source. To troubleshoot condenser water flow, adopt a systematic approach.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Pressure gauges

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  1. 1

    Troubleshoot the water flow on a chiller by first checking the refrigerant discharge pressure. If the discharge pressure is high, check the components in the following steps. If the check reveals that the water in the system is insufficient or too warm, open the condenser water regulating valve to increase the water supply through the system.

  2. 2

    Check the condenser tubes. If you find them clogged, clean them with an acid solution overnight. A high discharge pressure check may indicate that there are solid particulates in the system; purge them immediately. A set of pressure gauges are hooked up to the system to check for suction pressure and discharge pressure. A system will have a high suction pressure if the suction side is encountering obstruction or resistance. Check for and remove any excess refrigerant if your pressure check reads high.

    How to troubleshoot a condenser's water flow on a chiller
    Inner linings of sealed condenser tubes can become fouled quickly. (tubes image by Dusan Radivojevic from
  3. 3

    Inspect the discharge shutoff valve to make sure it is completely open. Review the rating table operating parameters, and confirm that the condenser is properly sized and able to handle the workload you are placing on it. Consider the ambient temperature of the cooler's surroundings when making your size assessment.

  4. 4

    Double check the refrigerant level in the system. Verify that it is not overcharged, and remove refrigerant if you find that it is. "Overcharged" means that there is too much refrigerant in the system, either from faulty gauges and readings, from adding refrigerant without checking levels first or not removing the excess earlier. Add more, if you find it low.

    How to troubleshoot a condenser's water flow on a chiller
    If you are continually adding refrigerant, check the system for a leak. (iindustrial refrigerator image by Izaokas Sapiro from
  5. 5

    Monitor the compressor cycles. Watch how often the system goes through load and unload. If the cycles are too short, the evaporator water flow may be low. Correct this by adjusting/increasing flow rate after making sure there are no line restrictions.

  6. 6

    Verify chiller performance and water temperature change by measuring the temperature of the water entering the unit and the change in temperature as it leaves. Compare the two to find out if it is within the performance parameters established for the system. For most systems, a difference of eight degrees or more, depending upon the system, is sufficient.

    How to troubleshoot a condenser's water flow on a chiller
    Erratic water temperature readings may indicate chiller motor problems. (thermometer image by CraterValley Photo from
  7. 7

    Confirm that there is no air in the system, since air can carry contaminants and affect chiller water quality. Take a temperature reading of the refrigerant in the top line exiting the condenser and compare it to the condensing temperature. The condensing pressure is the amount of pressure required within the system to take the heat out of the water. The condensing pressure can be measured with the set of pressure gauges on the pressure taps at the inlet and outlets of the condenser itself. If the two are more than three degrees different, check the purge system operation for leaks.

Tips and warnings

  • If the condenser approach is calculated at four degrees or more, your water quality is negatively affected in that it is not removing sufficient heat from the water.
  • Rising head pressure when pumps, piping and tower are all in good working order, is a sign you need to clean the tubes.
  • If you are not familiar with refrigeration, do not even attempt this advanced troubleshooting; leave it to a licensed professional.

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