How to Protect Your AC Unit from Storms

We normally associate the summer with heat and sun but we can’t forget that this is also a season of the occasional storm in Austin. Air conditioning units are built to withstand a lot of what the weather conditions throw at it but they aren’t invulnerable. When storms get severe, things can go wrong. It’s worth being prepared and having the knowledge of what one can do to prevent storm damage to your AC unit is the best way to do that.

The outdoor part of your air conditioning system is contained within a condenser unit. In the unit are a compressor, a condenser fan, a liquid line, and other components, all of which are vulnerable to damage in severe storms. Storms can inflict damage to the condenser unit through electrical power surges, lightning damage, water damage, hail, and debris blown by powerful wind. To learn more about these possible risks and the ways in which you can prevent them, continue below.

Water Damage

Contrary to what you might assume, water damage isn’t one of the biggest concerns when it comes to storm damage to your AC unit. Condenser units are designed to be well protected from rain, even heavy rain, so it is perfectly safe to keep your air conditioning going through rain storms. It’s actually a good idea to keep your air conditioning running through warm, rainy days, as the evaporator coil will help to remove humidity from your home that the rain brings and keep you comfortable.

The only thing you have to worry about when it comes to water damage is flooding. If you know you’re in an area that is susceptible to minor or major flooding, it would be worth investigating its possible effects on your condenser unit prior to a storm. Before a storm, you can wrap your outdoors AC unit in a canvas tarp or other such material, making sure that the entire unit is covered. Secure the canvas with stakes or heavy rocks. This can mitigate some potential damage due to excess water. But if standing water starts to gather around the AC unit, turn the air conditioning off. Switch off power to the air conditioning on your electrical panel.

This should prevent much of the possible negative effects of flooding around your AC unit. Still, after the storm passes, you should play it safe by having your AC unit inspected by a trusted professional before turning it back on.

Hail and Debris

Often, during severe storms, one of the greatest risks of damage to your outdoors air conditioning unit is hail and debris. Condenser units were not designed to take high speed blunt force. Strong winds can throw things around and damage your AC unit, as can large hail. For reference, between 2010 and 2013, the US suffered around 7000 damaging hail storm reports. A damaging hail storm is one that produces hailstones one inch in diameter or greater.

Your condenser unit has a protective shell, but because many of the components inside need access to outdoor air, they are still vulnerable to damage from impact. Around the evaporator coil is a thin film of aluminum which can be struck by hailstones and bent. This can cause blockage in the airflow. The most common symptoms of such damage are the air conditioning running nonstop or not enough.

In addition to hail, debris that is blown around by heavy winds can also pose a threat to your AC unit. Debris such as leaves and other things that might be in your yard can clog up vents and fans within your AC unit. Problems such as leaking refrigerant, a clogged fan, a ruptured coolant line, and more, are all possible due to anything from flying leaves to a falling branch.

To protect your AC unit from falling hail and flying debris, the first thing you should do is clear your yard of possible debris before the storm hits. If you believe that a severe storm is brewing, make sure there isn’t anything in the yard that could pose a threat to your AC unit. Clear all patio furniture, children’s toys, excessive leaves, work tools, and the like. It would also be worth cutting down any large tree branches that pose a threat due to being above your air conditioning unit.

Also consider investing in hail guards. Hail guards are permanently installed over the coil vent opening, providing superior protection from hail than the standard grille. If there’s encroaching vegetation surrounding your condenser unit, remove it to reduce the risk of debris damage from high winds.

Electrical Damage

Power surges are the main threat posed by lightning storms. While a direct hit from lightening is possible, it is exceedingly rare in most cases and there isn’t much you can do to protect against it. Power surges, caused by lightning, however, are much more common, and can be protected against. Power surges can cause anything from blown fuses to burnt wires and capacitors.

The most important step you can take in protecting your AC unit from power surges is to turn it off prior to a severe storm and leave it off until the storm passes. If you know of an oncoming storm and your area is at a high risk for power outages and power surges, turn off your thermostat before the storm hits. In addition to the thermostat, extra safety can be achieved by turning all power off to the air conditioning unit by throwing off the circuit breaker to cut off power to both the indoor and outdoor AC units. This will mitigate much of the damage that is possible in a lightning storm.

One possible solution to consider is a standby generator. A standby generator will constantly be aware of the power supplied by the grid and, in the event of an interruption, will take over as the power provider for part or all of your houses appliances, including the air conditioner.

Although a power surge can’t affect your air conditioning system if all the power to it is cut off, you can’t always predict storms. Sometimes, a power surge might hit your neighborhood before you’re prepared, or when you’re not at home. In such instances, the best thing you can do to protect your air conditioning unit is to have installed suppression equipment. A simple surge protector often times won’t be enough to eliminate the threat of electrical damage due to a lightning strike on the power line, so it’s worth looking into a protection system specifically for your air conditioner. With lightning rods, conductors, and ground rods, outside electrical impacts can be rerouted away from your vulnerable outdoors air conditioning unit. Having suppression equipment both on the main power panel of the house as well as individual suppressors at the air conditioning unit will give you the best defense against electrical damage due to lightning storms.

Repairing Damage

After a severe storm has passed, you may want to check your air conditioning unit for damage. Regardless of what preventive measures you took, storms are unpredictable and there’s always a chance that your vulnerable condenser unit suffered some damage in the case of a heavy storm, whether due to electricity, hail, water, or debris.

In the event of a severe storm, it is recommended that you give your air conditioner a quick inspection yourself before resuming power. Check to make sure there’s no flooding around the outdoor unit. Look to see if any debris has clogged the coil or fans. And check for bent aluminum fans. In any such cases, including any power surge you may have experienced in a storm, calling a local air conditioning specialist is in order.

If you recently had a severe storm in your area and you’re experiencing problems with your air conditioning, call an HVAC professional to come inspect your air conditioning unit for damage. Some things can be easily repaired, such as bent aluminum fins. These fins that surround your condenser coil are malleable and can easily be bent by hail or debris during a storm. Fortunately, this means they can easily be bent back into place with a fin comb.

There are several other steps to take after a storm to make sure everything is okay. Remove and store any tarp that you’ve used to protect your air conditioning unit. Remove any debris that has collected around your AC unit due to the storm. Check the electrical and refrigerant lines coming out of your condenser unit and inspect them for damage. It is also recommended that you change your air filter after a severe storm.

Austin AC Repair and Storm Protection

When storms hit in Austin, air conditioning is at risk. There’s a lot you can do to mitigate potential damage to your air conditioning unit from a storm but there’s never going to be 100% protection. Nature is unpredictable and powerful, and because if this, you might be in need of AC repair in Austin, whether you live central or out in Taylor or Liberty Hill. From power surge damage and burnt wires, to standing water damage, to debris and hail damage, and more, there is a lot that can potentially harm your outdoor air conditioning unit in a severe storm.

If you find yourself in the need of air conditioning repair in Austin, whether that be after a storm, or any other time, call a trusted HVAC repair specialist like AC Express. Here at AC Express, we have the equipment and the experience necessary to solve any AC related problem. For Austin air conditioning service, call us today! (512) 866-5520