Can Your Air Conditioner Cause a Power Surge? How to Protect Your Home
What are power surges, and how do they involve my HVAC system?
A power surge is a temporary spike in the electrical current in your home. Power surges typically last only a fraction of a second, but that is plenty of time to wreak havoc on your electrical equipment. There are two basic types of home power surges: external and internal.
External power surges originate from outside your home. In the Chicago area, electrical storms are a common occurrence and lightning can definitely cause these surges. You may experience power spikes from a number of other external causes as well.
These include such things as electrical grid distribution activity, damage to exterior power lines, power plant maintenance, and electrically powered heavy machinery operating in your neighborhood.
Power Surge Sources Can Come from Inside the Home
Most people aren’t aware that over half of all home power surges have their source inside the home. These internal power surges happen when an electrical device suddenly turns off and stops drawing electricity.
This results in a brief increase in voltage throughout the home because the current it was drawing suddenly has no place to go. Even a small appliance such as a hair dryer can set off a power surge. However, because of their size, the amount of power they draw and the fact that they shut on and off many times a day, AC units are one of the most common causes.
Surge Protection in Your Home: What Homeowners Should Know
Electrical surges can cause thousands of dollars of damage in the blink of an eye by burning out expensive equipment such as your computer or wide-screen TV. In the worst-case scenario, they can even lead to electrical fires, which could burn down your entire house. So it’s wise to take them seriously.
Sensitive electronics such as your computer are especially at risk from power surge damage. In fact, these days the majority of electrical devices in your home are equipped with microchips. Therefore, it’s important to protect them from fluctuations in your home electrical current.
Here are a few things to consider doing to protect your home and possessions:
- Inspect your home’s wiring. Faulty wiring can contribute to power surge problems. Especially if you have an older home, it’s worth hiring an electrician to inspect your home’s electrical system for issues such as damaged wiring, poorly installed wiring, poor grounding and circuit breaker issues.
- Unplug sensitive electronics during a storm. Lightning strikes aren’t common, but they can be devastating. The surest way to protect your equipment during an electrical storm is simply to disconnect it from the power source.
- Install surge protectors on valuable equipment. A surge protector is a device that is installed between your equipment and its power source. It monitors the flow of electricity, and if the voltage spikes too high for safety, blocks the excess from reaching your equipment by either blocking it or shorting it to ground.
There are various types of surge protectors you can install between your devices and the electrical outlet.
- Power Strips. Power strips are the best known, and cost between $10 and $200.
- Uninterruptable power supply. Another type is called an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), which in addition to over voltage protection contains a battery capable of powering your device long enough to shut it down safely during an electrical event.
High-value pieces of electronic equipment such as computers and TVs should each be protected with one or more of these devices. Keep in mind that quality of protection varies considerably from one device to the next.
- Install a whole-house surge protector. Surge protection strips are a good first step, but to really protect your home from electrical spikes, it’s a good idea to invest in a whole-house, or primary, surge protector. This is a device that is installed at the primary breaker box between your home’s electrical system and the grid. It will protect your entire household from external surges in electricity, including your HVAC system.
- Install a high-efficiency AC unit. If you have an older air conditioner, consider replacing it for a newer, more efficient model. Not only will it save you a bundle on your cooling costs, it will also draw less power and be less likely to cause voltage spikes in your home.
Does my air conditioner need a surge protector?
Even though AC units can cause power fluctuations within your home, they also are susceptible to damage by electrical surges from outside your home. Modern air conditioners, especially high-efficiency ones, typically contain electronic components that are easily damaged by power fluctuations. Even if they don’t get fried by a large power spike right away, repeated exposures to smaller surges can compromise their efficiency.
To reduce the likelihood of having to call for HVAC repair, we recommend installing whole-house surge protection. You can have a whole-house surge protector installed for about $1,000. While this may seem like a lot, it is a very good investment when you consider that a single power spike can cause tens of thousands of dollars of damage, or even lead to an electrical fire that could destroy your home.
Questions about HVAC and power surges?
Surge protection is a serious issue when it comes to protecting not just your air conditioning unit, but everything in your home. There are hundreds of surge protection options on the market today. Some of them are worth investing in, but others frankly aren’t up to the task.
If you would like expert assistance, don’t hesitate to contact us online or give us a call at 630-377-3608. Our certified, factory-trained air conditioning technicians can help you select the best solutions to protect your AC equipment as well as all your computers and other valuable electronic appliances and devices.