Houston Heating, Cooling, and Electrical

How To Care For Your A/C Before, During And After A Hurricane

Hurricanes pose several threats to air conditioners, in the form of floods, winds, debris and lightning. Any of those elements can cause serious damage to the unit, but as long as you prepare before the storm and know what to do afterwards, the worst may be avoided. Fortunately, homeowners don’t have to prepare well in advance of a hurricane to protect their air conditioner.

What to do Before the Storm

Air conditioners are built to last and built for rugged conditions, but they are still vulnerable to the extreme winds and rains that typically accompany a hurricane. Air conditioners are also exposed to lightning, so electrical dangers must also be accounted for. Flying debris is almost always a hazard during a hurricane, and debris and falling limbs can also damage the air conditioner.

Here’s how homeowners can prepare for those risks:

1. Turn the thermostat down before the hurricane arrives – You don’t want the compressor running while a hurricane passes over. You also don’t want to be stuck in a hot house should the power go out or if the hurricane stalls overhead. By dropping the thermostat, homeowners can bring the temperature down and keep the home cooler for longer.

2. Strap the air conditioner down – It may be difficult to believe that wind could send a compressor airborne, but it does happen. To ensure this doesn’t happen to your air conditioner, get some hurricane straps and secure the air conditioner. The straps work best when installed into concrete and will hold the compressor down during the storm.

3. Install a surge protector – If a direct lightning strike takes out your air conditioner, there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. In most cases, though, electrical damage comes in the form of a surge, which is what happens when lightning strikes near a power line. When this happens, the lightning creates a great deal of electrical pressure that warps the voltage in the line. This causes a spike in electrical activity that can destroy any circuitry that gets in the way.

A surge protector is a buffer between the air conditioner and incoming electricity. If there is a surge, the surge protector will take the hit, or at least part of it. It’s not a guarantee that a surge protector will save your air conditioner from a surge, especially if a lightning strike is behind it, but it adds a layer of defense worth investing in.

4. Get rid of nearby branches – If there are bulky tree branches near the air conditioner, it’s time to get rid of them. During a hurricane, those branches could snap off and land on the compressor, potentially ruining it. Cut them down to minimize the chances of a disaster occurring.

What to do During a Hurricane

The storm is looming, so it’s time to take a couple more precautions:

1. Turn the air conditioner off – Even if you have a surge protector in place, switch the air conditioner off and switch the breaker off, too. This is the only way to ensure that your system won’t be affected by electrical issues, and those issues concern more than power surges. During a hurricane, brief outages are common, and if your compressor is constantly switching on after getting hit with an outage, it will strain the system. Don’t even risk it – turn the air conditioner off.

2. Cover the compressor – Use a tarp or cover to shield the compressor from rain and debris. Compressors are built to shrug off heavy rains, but hurricanes have a tendency to throw debris around. A cover blocks most of this debris from reaching inside the compressor, which will make post-hurricane cleanup a bit easier.

What to do After a Hurricane

The rains have lifted, the winds have died down and the storm has moved on, but is it safe to turn the air conditioner back on? Here’s what to do once the hurricane has dissipated:

1. Do not switch the air conditioner back on – A lot can go wrong with an air conditioner during a hurricane, so you’ll need to inspect the system before using it again. If there are obvious signs of damage, contact a technician and have them come out and assess the problem.

2. Clean out any debris – If debris is lodged in the compressor, it can cause serious damage to the compressor’s components, resulting in early failure. Make sure there is nothing obstructing the blower fan and nothing loose inside the compressor’s cabinet.

3. Call a technician if the compressor flooded – When compressors are exposed to floodwaters for an extended time, it can cause all kinds of issues with electrical lines, refrigerant lines or the capacitor. Attempting to start up the air conditioner in this state could cause even more damage to the unit, so it’s not recommended.

Refrigerant lines require special attention after a flood, because pathogen-filled water can be trapped inside the lines and cause bacteria growth. Having a technician check and clean out these lines before relying on the air conditioner again.

As tough as HVAC systems are, hurricanes can do serious damage to them. However, if homeowners prepare for the storm and have a technician inspect the air conditioner afterwards, the air conditioner should emerge intact.

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