For most of the country, rain cools things off. In the summer, most of America is (relatively) fine with the occasional shower.
Down here in Orlando, we have a different view. The Sunshine State could just as easily have been called the Lightning State, as Florida residents know well. After all, didn’t Tampa name their hockey team after our most common spring and summer weather phenomenon?
Florida experiences tropical storms at a higher rate than the rest of the continental United States. The upshot of that is simple: lots and lots of lightning. These typically start in the spring, and they can continue throughout the summer.
Worst of all, they don’t really cool things down. Instead, they just make it intensely humid, which raises the heat index and makes the outside practically unbearable. During those soupy, muggy days and nights, most Orlando residents retreat into that loveliest of modern amenities: air conditioning.
Willis Haviland Carrier, thank you for your contributions.
What do storms and your AC have to do with one another?
We get a lot of calls during storm season. Sometimes, it’s for repairs on HVAC systems that have been damaged, but more often, it’s to ask a simple question. It’s one we have to answer on a weekly basis, at least, when lightning is searing the skies overhead.
The question is this:
“Can I run my AC during this storm?”
Rain and lightning remind people that electricity and water don’t mix. They’re mostly concerned about their HVAC system and the lightning having a sort of hairdryer-in-the-sink mishap.
Breathe easy. In this article, we’ll explain what the real risks are, and exactly when you should and should not be using your air conditioner.
First, if it’s just raining, even heavy rain, go ahead and run your air conditioner. Any AC repair company in Florida will be able to tell you that, barring unusually dangerous weather, there is absolutely nothing to be concerned about. No amount of rain should pose any risk to you, your family, or your outside condenser unit.
You see, when engineers decided that, in order to deal with the noise, they’d better keep those condensers outdoors, they built them to survive all kinds of weather. Like a good postman, your HVAC unit is built to survive.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night shall stay your brave condenser from the steadfast completion of its cooling duties.
However, when we get into thunderstorms, there are a few precautions we’ll discuss.
Should I worry about flooding?
Flooding can be problematic. If it rains heavy enough that your home experiences flooding, water can collect and damage your AC. If you’re in an area that’s under a credible flood warning – and you’ll know, they’ll tell you! – you have got to do yourself a favor and shut your system off.
If you’re in a flood prone area, like a good chunk of Florida happens to be, you might want to consider asking your HVAC installation and maintenance company whether you can elevate your outside unit. It’s a great option for homeowners who want to avoid costly repairs.
Should I worry about rain?
Whether it’s a downpour or just a sprinkling, rain should never be a risk factor all by itself. The outside unit is built to withstand searing summer heat, snow, wind, and all manner of elemental dangers.
If, however, you’re a worrier, there are weatherproof covers you can purchase that provide an additional layer of protection for your equipment. We never scoff at that kind of thing. After all, your air conditioner costs a great deal of money.
Between the prices of air conditioning maintenance and the staggering price tag on a new AC installation, we can completely understand why you’d want to take every precaution. Our job is to make sure you stay cool and comfortable, at reasonable prices, all the time.
If I’ve got surge protectors, am I safe?
If you’re seeing frequent flashes of lightning, and you’re (very naturally) worried about your HVAC equipment, you might wonder whether it would survive a lightning strike.
It’s a good idea to ensure that all of your heating and cooling system components are plugged into surge protectors. They’re an investment designed for that specific occurrence, and they can save you a great deal of money in the event of a strike.
AC surge protectors are your equipment’s best line of defense against outages, shortages, and lightning strikes. They absorb the electrical damage so that your equipment doesn’t have to, and then they redirect the energy to the ground.
In addition to protecting your equipment, surge protectors are there to protect you and your home and family.
AC Repair Orlando: A note on surge protectors and power strips.
Most surge protectors look just a like power strip, which may lead to many homeowners confusing the two. In fact, some manufacturers even market power strips as surge protectors.
They are NOT the same thing. This is very important. A power strip is essentially a glorified extension cord. It doesn’t provide any additional protection.
Here’s how you tell the two apart. A power strip:
On the other hand, a surge protector, while it may look like a power strip:
Surge protectors are aimed at electronics – televisions, networking gear, computers, and HVAC equipment.
When it comes to air conditioning, surge protectors are only a first step.
What you want for HVAC equipment is a high-end protection, able to absorb a very large amount of energy. Installing industrial grade surge protectors is a great start, but given that you live in Florida, the Lightning State, it may not be enough. In the event that lightning strikes a unit while it is operating, a surge protector may not be enough to defend the system’s controls against corruption or damage.
What can happen if lightning strikes my air conditioner?
A lightning strike is immensely powerful. It briefly heats the air around it up to five times hotter than the sun. They travel around two hundred million miles per hour. Each bolt can contain up to one billion volts of electricity. By way of comparison, your house current is running at about a hundred and ten volts.
That’s why a surge protector isn’t a cure-all. What you want to do is ensure that your house is properly grounded. That can be accomplished by using a lightning protection system. That will use lightning rods, conductors, and ground rods in a system around your home that will “catch” the lightning and redirect it harmlessly into the ground rather than through your home’s circuits.
Of course, even these systems aren’t 100% effective.
So, if you’re trapped in your home on a hot, humid Florida night, watching lightning rip across the sky, we’ve got some bad news for you:
The safest option is to turn your air conditioner off until the lightning and thunder have moved out of your area. If it’sjust rain, you’re fine, but when it comes to lightning, there are unavoidable risks to running that air conditioner.
Lightning can render your air conditioner completely unusable in a number of ways:
All of that and more can come out of a single lightning strike, and in worst-case scenarios, your entire HVAC system may need replacing.
How do I know when it’s safe and when it’s dangerous?
While we hate to be the bearer of bad news, we can’t stress enough that running your air conditioner during a thunderstorm is dangerous.
In Florida, March through June tend to be the peak of thunderstorm weather, but they can pop up almost anytime, bringing all the dangers we’ve discussed in this article. Long before breakers trip and surge protectors cut things off, your system could get walloped with billions of unwanted joules of electricity. The havoc wreaked therein is devastating, so of course you’d want to know how to avoid the risk.
Here’s the rule of thumb we employ, and it’s an easy one: If you can hear thunder, you should turn your AC off. Period. If you are within earshot of thunder, that means you are within striking distance of a lightning bolt. If you play the childhood game of counting the seconds between lightning and thunder, and you determine the storm is several miles away, that does not make you safe. Lightning bolts can strike as far as ten milesoutside of the storm area, in areas most people would consider safe.
So, to remain truly safe, instead of truly sorry, we advise waiting until all you hear is falling rain before kicking the air conditioning on. This way, you don’t have to call your AC repair Orlando specialists to come out and assess the damage once the sun’s come out again.
I know something important:
I know how expensive your central air conditioning system was. I know how much the average homeowner is spending on energy bills to cool their home.
And I think you are paying too much money.
I also think you should make your air conditioning system last as long as possible to offset that expense.
With the enormous price tag central air carries at installation, you should do everything you can to make the system last – and make your Orlando AC repair company help.
That’s why we’re here, after all.
So, to keep it brief …
I’ve got a few tips and tricks to help you out – and these are backed up by proper scientific research and guaranteed to work. If you employ a little time, attention, and energy, your air conditioning system could even outlive the warranty.
So … if I have your attention …
Read on to find out more.
1 – KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR LITTLE WARNING SIGNS
Your air conditioner will usually be pretty great at telling you that something is fishy. If you know what to watch for, you’ll be more likely to catch problems early – before they get out of hand and cost you a fortune.
Catching problems early also prevents them from damaging other components in your air conditioner and shortening its lifespan.
HVAC repair axioms and pearls of wisdom are usually accurate. One of my favorites is straight from Ben Franklin, and even though he wasn’t talking about air conditioners back in 1736 (he was talking about fires, if you were curious), it certainly applies.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Basically, if you catch a problem while it’s small, it won’t cost you nearly as much to fix, and it won’t create a cascading mess of other problems for you, either. So here are a few warning signs to watch for.
If you spot any impending disasters, shoot a call or email over to your Orlando AC repair professionals and ask for a preemptive air conditioning service.
2: CHANGE YOUR AIR FILTERS REGULARLY
If you were to ask me for JUST ONE piece of advice for caring for your AC system, this might be it. At every job in AC repair near me – and an enormous percentage of the air conditioning services we perform – can be traced back to blockages and airflow issues.
Dirty filters lead to a whole host of other problems, including:
3: CHOOSE THE RIGHT FILTER
Speaking of filters:
You have options. The one that came with your system isn’t the only compatible filter. Not every Orlando AC repair technician agrees on which type of filter you should use. Some will advise pleated, disposable filters.
Some will recommend electrostatic washable filters. You may, if you have allergies, choose HEPA filters. However, some higher-resistance filters exact a toll on your system’s efficiency because your air handler has to work harder to circulate air through them.
Striking a balance between performance (how well it traps particulates) and resistance (how easily air passes through) is key to getting the maximum life out of your air conditioner.
4: ADD CEILING FANS TO YOUR HOME
Ceiling fans don’t get enough love, in my opinion.
They’re relatively cheap and simple to install, and they have a staggeringly positive impact on your home. The problem seems to be that many people think of ceiling fans, box fans, and standing fans as a replacement for air conditioning systems, when in reality they are meant to work in conjunction with your HVAC.
A ceiling fan works in the simplest way imaginable: it moves a lot of air around, quite slowly. You don’t have to have them turned to maximum speed to achieve their cooling effect.
A room with a ceiling fan will feel about 4-5 degrees cooler than it actually is, which allows you the luxury of setting your thermostat an equivalent number of degrees higher.
Setting your thermostat higher gives your air conditioner less work to do, which reduces the duration of the “ON” cycle, which saves you money.
But how much money does it really save you?
A lot. Depending on your usage, you’ll see a substantial net savings. A ceiling fan typically costs around one cent ($0.01) each hour to run. An air conditioner is over 40 times more expensive than that.
Here’s the kicker:
The ceiling fan reduces your air conditioner costs by up to $0.17 per hour. Over a month of usage, that could drop your energy bills by $30 or more.
That sure sounds like a winner to me.
5: ADD A MODERN WI-FI CAPABLE, PROGRAMMABLE THERMOSTAT
Your thermostat is the brains of the HVAC operation, and it pays to have the best brain around. A thermostat will dramatically increase efficiency, which – as I’ve said – will lengthen the lifespan of your air conditioning. It will also reduce the incidence of needing AC repair.
Even if you have a programmable thermostat, you should speak to your air conditioning service provider and discover whether recent advances in the technology could outstrip the capabilities of your current stat.
What kind of feats can modern thermostats accomplish?
Glad you asked. Modern thermostats can be controlled from your phone or tablet, which means you can turn the system on mid-commute, rather than leaving your home at a cooler temperature all day or trying to predict your schedule as closely as possible.
For people with varying or unpredictable schedules, it isn’t feasible to program a weekly routine into your thermostat – and wi-fi control solves that problem quite neatly.
Thermostats with modern technology can also help to create cooling zones in your home – so that your money only goes to cooling down rooms that will be occupied.
If you’ve got a guest room that you know isn’t being used, or don’t feel like cooling off your dining room when there are no dinner parties happening, zones will be a big help.
6: CLEAN OFF YOUR OUTDOOR CONDENSER UNIT REGULARLY
Your outside unit works hard, and depending on where your home is located, it probably lives hard as well. Whether your climate woes are humidity, snow, dry heat, high winds, or something else entirely, there’s no way living outdoors year-round is going to be problem-free.
However, your condenser has to be kept clean to effectively perform the task for which it was designed. The coils and fins enable your system to gather heat from within your home and expel it into the Great Outdoors.
Keeping your condenser unit free of debris is simple. Just make sure all plants and bushes are trimmed a few feet back, and give it a once-over every few month or so. Make sure that the fins are straight and clean and that nothing is caught in there.
Leaves, grass clippings, trash, dirt, weeds, and the like will clog your condenser and stop it from dissipating heat. When that happens, your equipment suffers.
One method I’ve found helpful is this:
When you’re watering your lawn or garden, hose off the condenser unit as well!
7: SHADE YOUR CONDENSER UNIT
Shading your condenser can improve its performance by up to 10%, and that means savings AND a healthier system. There are a couple of ways to do this:
8: TALK TO US ABOUT SCHEDULING AN ANNUAL OR BIANNUAL TUNE-UP
When the spring rolls around and you’re getting ready to shake the dust off of your air conditioner for the warmer seasons, you should schedule a tune-up. You may also choose to have the system gone over at the end of the season to make as certain as you can that the spring tune-up won’t turn up any unpleasant surprises.
I bet you’re wondering:
What’s a tune-up, and why should you pay for one?
It isn’t a hustle, I promise. It’s one of the smartest ways to spend money on Orlando HVAC repair, and it’s actually a pretty inexpensive process.
Think of it the way you would a car: every few thousand miles, you want to change the oil, rotate the tires, check the brakes, and so on. Well, in a year, your air conditioner is doing an amount of work nearly the equivalent of a car driving 170,000 miles.
A tune-up doesn’t sound so unreasonable now, does it?
As for what a tune-up is, that’s easy to explain.
Those are the basic steps of a tune-up, and if they turn up anything worrisome, your air conditioning service professionals will advise you on what steps to take next.
9: CLEAN YOUR RETURN GRILLS AND VENTS
This works on a principle similar to your air filters. If those grills are blocked or obstructed, the air conditioner has to work that much harder to get things done. It is such a simple job that including it in the checklist of Owner Maintenance Tasks should be a no-brainer.
A few things to keep in mind, though:
10: UV LIGHTS – THE BACTERIA-FREE WAVE OF THE FUTURE
A slightly more recent innovation, ultraviolet light bulbs can be strategically installed over coils or inside ducts to effectively destroy mold and bacteria. This will take some of the strain off your filters and allow your system to work more efficiently, and as added value, it will also increase the air quality.
They are particularly helpful for those suffering from allergies, asthma, or pulmonary disease.
While UV lights have recently become a very affordable option as far as AC repair near me is concerned, they are a viable and proven method of controlling bacteria and mold, which are often a particularly serious problem in the humid climate we experience here in Orlando.
It’s up to you to decide what that’s worth, but we are more than happy to answer your questions.
11: ASK YOUR HVAC REPAIR SERVICE PROVIDER FOR A DUCT INSPECTION
Your home is probably losing 20% (or more!) of its cooling energy to imperfect ductwork.
In recent years, HVAC repair specialists have gained a far more sophisticated understanding of how the ventilation apparatus we call ductwork impacts your central air’s performance.
Here’s a clue: it’s a really important factor.
Ductwork that is outdated, poorly installed, or improperly laid out can lead to a money-devouring energy loss problem. If you suspect that might be the case, you should ask for a duct inspection to be included at your next air conditioning service appointment.
Call us with questions or concerns at 407-499-8942
Michael Haines is a veteran A/C contractor and founder of the largest and oldest e-commerce site in the heating and air conditioning industry. His HVAC websites have served 10's of thousands of customers.