How Cold Weather Affects Air Compressors (And How to Protect Your System This Winter)

By In Blog On January 23, 2017

Many industrial air compression systems are located outside or in minimally insulated facilities. During the spring and fall, this location helps the compression system maintain its ideal operating temperature range of about 40 to 95° Fahrenheit.

In the winter, however, temperatures may drop well below 40° Fahrenheit and remain low for long periods of time. If you want to ensure your facility continues to function as it should during the winter, it’s vital to protect your industrial air compressor from extreme seasonal temperatures.

In this blog, we explain how colder temperatures can affect your compressor’s performance and structure and how to protect your system over the winter.

How Low Temperatures Affect Your System

Air compressors work best in well-ventilated areas with an ambient temperature in the compressor system’s optimal range. If the temperature around your compressor becomes too hot or too cold, the compressor may not start or may exhibit performance issues.

Common air compressor problems related to cold weather include the following.


Your air compressor system is designed to get rid of excess moisture created by the compression process. However, your system’s moisture control can become less effective during cold weather. Unaddressed moisture can lead to corrosion of the system components or controls over time.

Excessive Electrical Usage

While your compressor’s oil should not freeze over the winter, the liquid may become more of a sludge. This thickened oil does not flow as easily and forces the system to use more electricity. You may notice a spike in energy costs or frequent circuit breaker trips when the oil becomes too thick.

Frozen Fluids

Your compressor oil may not freeze, but the compressor’s condensate is vulnerable to freezing in low temperatures since the liquid consists primarily of water. Condensate could turn to ice anywhere that it gathers on your compressor and affect the way the system runs.

Obstructions and Voids

If condensate freezes inside a pipe, the ice can change the system’s balance. Frozen condensate could block drainage or create a void that prevents efficient compression.

Warping or Breakage

When a liquid freezes, it expands. When condensate freezes inside your pipes or inside an individual component of the system, the ice may be thick enough to push against the insides of the structure. If the ice remains solid for long enough, this pressure could cause bowing, cracks, or holes.

How You Can Protect Your Air Compressor

Luckily, you can prevent the issues above by winterizing your air compressor before the temperature begins to fall. Do your best to prepare the compressor in advance and to keep up on maintenance during the spring by using the following guidelines.


If possible, you should winterize your air compression system approximately two months before the temperatures are expected to drop. Start with an inspection of the compressor itself and the enclosure if you have one.

Assess the condition of the weatherstripping and insulation. If you notice inconsistent or worn areas, restore the weatherstripping or insulation.

Additionally, inspect your drains and pipes for any damage. You’ll need to keep these components as clear as possible during the winter, so repair any warping or cracking before it gets cold to ensure the pipework stays intact.

Once you have inspected your compressor, consider the following winterization measures:

  • Add new system dryers or upgrade your current dryers to more efficient models. Dryers prevent moisture from gathering on system components, thereby reducing the risk of frozen fluids.
  • Change your filters. Compression systems run most efficiently with clean and unobstructed filters. New filters can help compensate for thicker oil and other cold weather issues.
  • Fit your system with an internal heater. If you notice any ice on your system or a large increase in electrical usage, consider installing a heating cabinet to better regulate your system’s temperature.
  • Install trace heating to keep the pipework warm and free of condensation. Trace heating systems can supplement dryers and internal heaters to specifically prevent ice obstructions in pipes that aren’t close to the compressor itself.

Finally, have your system inspected and serviced by a professional to address any minor issues that could become more serious in extreme weather conditions.

Winter Maintenance

Once temperatures fall below your system’s ideal range, you’ll have to perform regular maintenance to keep your air compressor in good working order. Check the compressor for moisture and ice buildup daily before you power up the system.

If you do not have an auto drain system, drain the condensate manually once a day. If you have an automatic drainage system, check the drain for any obstructions on a regular basis.

Check your fluid levels often to ensure that your compressor has enough oil to function properly. Keep in mind that the system may burn through more oil as it heats up at the beginning of the work day and that you may need to top the oil off more frequently than usual.

Use these tips to ensure that your industrial air compressor continues to perform well in spite of the winter weather.

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