Houston Heating, Cooling, and Electrical

What To Do If Your AC Stops Working After A Storm

What to do when the air conditioner goes down after a storm

The lightning and thunder have rolled on, but your A/C either won’t turn on, or it’s running but pushing out warm air instead of cool air. In either case, damage to the system’s electronics could be the issue, and if that’s the case, an experienced technician will be needed to safely handle repairs.

How do you know if the air conditioner has been damaged? It won’t be noticeable just looking at the outdoor or indoor unit, but you don’t need technical expertise to confirm electrical issues. It’s something anyone can do in a few minutes safely.

How to inspect for electrical damage

Excessive winds or rains can threaten an air conditioner, but electrical surges pose the biggest risk to the system. When an air conditioner is subjected to a bolt of electricity, it can cause issues with many of the system’s components. In many cases the air conditioner is still operational but has switched off for safety reasons. How can you tell the difference? Here’s what to do if your AC stops working after a storm:

1. First, check the circuit breaker – Circuit breakers are designed to protect electrical components from a potential surge, but they have to be reset before the air conditioner will switch on again. To do this, locate the circuit box and look for the switch that’s labeled “air handler” and one that’s labeled “condenser.” Alternatively, they may be labeled “indoor AC” and “outdoor AC.”

If either switch has been tripped, flip it back to the on position. Turn off the thermostat and give the system time to reset (usually about 30 minutes). If the air conditioner doesn’t come back on, or if it continues outputting warm air, further inspection is needed.

If the circuit breaker keeps tripping every time it’s reset, do not mess with it. The circuit breaker’s job is to prevent the risk of fire should a circuit become overloaded. If the breaker keeps tripping, that is a worrying sign of electrical damage, and a sign that the system is overheating somewhere. At this point, a certified technician should be called to correct the problem.

2. Take a look at the capacitor next – If the AC sounds like it’s running and air is coming out of the vents, but it’s warm, then the capacitor may be the problem.

The capacitor is responsible for starting up the compressor in the outdoor unit, and looks like a small cylinder. It’s normally located inside the side panel, so to check it, you’ll have to remove that first. Once the panel is off, it should be clear right away if the capacitor is in good shape or not. If the capacitor has failed, the top will probably be bulging or it may be leaking a viscous fluid. If this is the case, the only option is to replace the capacitor. This is a task that carries some risk of electrical shock, so it should be left to a trained technician.

3. Make sure the fan is running properly – An electrical surge can knock out the fan’s motor during a storm, and this will keep the fan from running at full speed and cooling the condenser coils properly. If this happens, the air conditioner will have to work harder to offset the extra heat, and this can lead to a spike in power consumption and plummeting performance. If it looks like the fan is spinning slowly or isn’t moving at all, a technician may need to replace the motor.

4. If the problem isn’t clear, call a technician – A lot of things can go wrong when an air conditioner is hit with a surge of electricity, and even if the issue isn’t obvious, it can still bring the system down.

For example, if the breaker is tripping over and over, a likely reason for it is a refrigerant leak. The refrigerant is responsible for carrying heat from inside to outside, and if there isn’t enough, the air conditioner can’t cool effectively. The result is an AC unit that has to work harder, which can lead to overheating and a tripped breaker.

If there is no obvious sign of damage, it may be because the entire compressor has failed. This is the worst case scenario, as total compressor replacement is expensive. Fortunately, it’s rare and more likely to occur in older systems.

If you’d rather not handle the air conditioner, it’s never a bad idea to contact a technician and have them diagnose the problem. Trained technicians know exactly what to look for if storm damage is suspected, and once the problem is identified, a technician will know what parts are needed and how to replace them. Most importantly, they know how to repair the system safely.

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