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Home Appliances

Your Air Conditioner is Actually a Major Fire Hazard

12 January 2018

Source: Jason Kuffer / CC BY-SA 2.0Source: Jason Kuffer / CC BY-SA 2.0As most of the country struggles with record-breaking low temperatures and wintry weather conditions, it might seem premature to discuss the health of your air conditioner. However, far away as it seems, summer will be here again before we know it and it never hurts to be prepared.

Linked to a number of deaths, triple-figure injuries and hundreds of millions in property damage, fires caused by air conditioners (ACs) are more common than previously thought. In 2010 alone, roughly 7,400 fires were the result of the operation of faulty air conditioning systems.

According to experts, window air conditioning units are often the culprit of these fires, with some studies suggesting that they are 1.8 times more likely to cause a house fire than their central AC unit counterparts.

According to research, these AC unit fires can be caused by some of the following:

Maintenance/Cleaning

Without regular maintenance, an air conditioning system risks catching fire, typically in instances where filters are worn out or accumulate dust and dirt particles. Dirt and particles can also collect on vital parts such as air vents, coils and fins, obstructing air flow and resulting in catastrophe.

Likewise, overworking a system that isn’t maintained can also result in strain to the electrical system.

Size

Hooking up an air conditioning window unit to an outlet that may not be able to handle the capacity can also lead to fire. Often, people try to plug AC units into outlets incapable of handling that amount of power. To avoid this issue, match the AC unit’s amperage with the appropriate size electrical wiring.

Another shortcut that can prove destructive is altering a new unit to fit an old outlet. Most AC units are equipped with a third prong meant to ground the appliance. Removing that third prong to fit the plug into an old outlet can ultimately lead to fire.

A good rule of thumb is to avoid overloading electrical outlets, particularly during the months when the units are in constant use, namely in June, July and August (which are consequently the months when most AC unit fires occur). This scenario has fast become one of the leading causes of electrical fires.

Flammables

Cluttering the areas around air conditioning units (both window and central units) can invite certain dangers. Chief among them is fire. Allowing materials such as paper, leaves and debris to accumulate nearby can result in potential destruction. A good rule of thumb according to experts is to keep areas surrounding air conditioning units clear on all sides (at least three feet).

Equipment and Parts

When vital parts of the unit begin to malfunction, consumers need to contact a professional. Parts, such as fans that start to degrade, may pave the way for the accumulation of heat within the AC. Those rising temperatures could potentially ignite nearby areas.

Faulty Wiring

When getting ready for warmer temperatures and preparing to set up your AC unit for the season, make sure to thoroughly check wires for nicks or wearing. You want to make sure that the wire is completely intact to prevent any issues with the appliance catching fire. That means avoid using AC units that have wire damage patched up with electrical tape. Moisture that manages to get around the tape will likely cause an electrical surge.

Experts also discourage using air conditioners with extension cords or surge protectors, and also warn against running window unit wires under any kind of carpeting, rugs or through walls and doorways.

Installation

If you are preparing to install an air conditioning unit, consider opting for professional installation instead. A professional will know what to look for in terms of how the appliance should be set up to avoid hazards.

Professionals will know details about the installation process, such as the fact that window units should be installed leaning slightly outside to prevent issues such as rain and water from collecting and dripping down onto electrical parts.

Ultimately, to keep your air conditioning unit in safe working order, experts recommend maintenance at least once a year, and, of course, to make sure that your batteries are up to date in all of your home’s smoke detectors.

Resources

ABC News — Experts warn rising temperatures can turn air conditioners into fire hazards

Gilmore — The Fire Dangers of Window-Mounted Air Conditioners

National Fire Protection Association — Home fires involving air conditioning or related equipment

The Cooling Company—3 Common Causes of AC Fires and How to Prevent Them

To contact the author of this article, email marie.donlon@ieeeglobalspec.com


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