How To Safely Remove Soldered Copper Tubing From Your Air Conditioning System

Posted on: 9 July 2015

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Copper tubing is an integral part of any residential air conditioning system, and knowing how to work with it properly is a prerequisite for successful repairs. If you are planning to replace a soldered copper line, then there are several things you should know, but one of the most important is how to remove the old lines. Below is more information:

A guide to removing copper tubing

Both the elements of nature and accidents of men can cause damage to copper tubing. If such a break in the lines occurs, then you will need to replace the tubing; however, replacement entails removing the damaged copper tubing first, and this must be done correctly, or further damage could occur to your system. Here are some tools and materials you will need, as well as a procedure for proper removal:

Tools and materials needed

  • Heat-resistant gloves
  • Eye protection
  • Propane torch
  • Thermal trap cream
  • Adjustable pliers
  • Nylon mallet

The procedure

1. Remember that safety takes precedence – when working with a complex system such as an air conditioner, the potential for injury increases if you aren't careful. The copper tubing normally carries refrigerant at high levels, and punctures in the line can cause a sudden release of refrigerant. Always wear eye protection in case of an unexpected release. In addition, working with intensely-hot surfaces heated with a torch can cause severe burns; wearing leather gloves or similar heat-resistant gloves will protect your hands from injury.

2. Turn off the system's electrical supply – before performing work on your air conditioner, be sure to completely turn off the power supply. Do not merely turn off the unit inside your home at the thermostat, since your system will still retain an active electrical connection.

The outside unit is attached to a switch that removes all power; depending on the make and model of your system, the switch may either be a lever or a pull-style disconnect handle. Whichever kind it is, be sure the power is completely disconnected from your system before proceeding. 

3. Ensure the refrigerant is isolated inside the outside unit – before removing a copper line of any kind, it is essential that refrigerant be removed from the line. Either isolate the line by turning off valves from both sides of the line or remove the refrigerant from the system. If you are uncomfortable removing the refrigerant, contact a heating and air professional for assistance.

4. Protect the fittings from heat damage – Once you have disconnected the electricity and ensured the lines are free from refrigerant, the final step before removing the tubing itself is protecting nearby fittings from heat damage. The simplest and most reliable method is to smear a generous layer of thermal trap cream on the fittings. The cream is specially designed to absorb heat before it reaches the fittings and causes damage. Don't be afraid to use too much cream; if you don't use enough, you may not provide enough heat protection.

5. Heat the tubing at its joints – light your propane torch and adjust the flame control until you have a blue colored flame. Place the flame tip so that it just touches the tubing at its soldered joints and grasp the tubing with a pair of adjustable pliers. Be careful not to move the torch tip too closely to the fittings or inadvertently damage another nearby component.

With one hand, continuously move the tip of the flame around while working, and use the other hand to manipulate the tubing in order to break it free from its soldered connection. If the connection is stubborn, lightly strike it a few times with a nylon mallet to loosen the joint. Be careful not to splash molten solder on your skin or clothing.

Following these steps will help you remove the old copper tubing in your air conditioner, but if you'd rather leave the work to the professionals, you can contact a local company like Anytime Plumbing Services.