Air conditioner fires & how to prevent them (updated)

*Updated on July 18, 2017.

When it’s hot and muggy outside, we become truly thankful for air conditioner systems! It’s hard to imagine what life was like before they invented AC. When it’s 98 degrees in August and the humidity is 100%, you’d give anything to turn the air conditioner on. This can lead to a problem: air conditioner fires.

A 2016 report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) gives some somber statistics. In 2014, air conditioning, fans, or related equipment were involved in an estimated 7,800 reported U.S. home structure fires. Sadly 50 people died and 260 were sent to the hospital with injuries.

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Air conditioner fires caused $213 million in direct property damage in 2014.

How do the causes of air conditioner fires break down? From 2006-2010, there was an average of…

  • 2,500 fires per year involving central and room air conditioners
  • 3,900 fires per year involving fans
  • 500 fires per year caused by heat pumps

What caused these fires?

It comes down to either a mechanical or electrical failure. Digging deeper, we found that of the AC fires that happened, 33% began with a wire or cable insulation catching fire.

Why does this happen?

  1. Overuse so the equipment heats up.
  2. Not properly maintaining the AC units
  3. Poor electrical wiring

What can we do to prevent air conditioner fires? Let’s take these one at a time:

Overuse so the equipment heats up: Let’s face it: when it’s hot and muggy these poor units get worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This can cause units to overheat and break down. What can you do? Since most fires start during the PEAK hours of electrical usage, why not give your AC unit a break during the peak hours your local electrical energy company advises?

Not properly maintaining the AC units: All mechanical and electrical equipment needs regular proper maintenance. Do you have a central AC unit? (By the way, central units cause fewer fires than window units!)

  • Have your AC system maintained by a professional once a year.
  • Change your filter monthly.
  • Make sure that leaves, dirt, debris, and insects haven’t clogged your exterior unit.

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Do you have a window unit?

  • Keep the AC unit’s air filter clean.
  • When installing a window unit, make sure it leans slightly outside. Why? This will keep rain and collected water from dripping onto electrical parts. Remember, electricity and water don’t mix!
  • Never use an extension cord for an air conditioner. AC electrical loads will cause the insulation to MELT and catch fire.
  • Put the AC on its own electrical circuit if possible. Match the AC units amperage with the right sized electrical wiring and circuit breaker.
  • Hire a licensed electrical contractor to wire this up for you. Remember when you invest in upgrading your home’s electrical wiring you will qualify for a homeowners’ insurance discount.
  • If you have fuses instead of breakers NEVER increase the size of the fuse or be tempted to put a penny under the fuse to prevent it from tripping. When a fuse trips, it’s WARNING you that something is wrong. Using oversized fuses or pennies BURN homes down to the ground.
  • NEVER run the AC unit power cord under a carpet or rug, through a doorway, or through a wall.
  • Install fresh batteries in your smoke detector each year.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher on hand in case of fire.

We hope these AC fire prevention tips will keep you safe and cool this summer.

If you have any questions about your homeowner’s fire protection coverage, please contact us here at InsuranceHub at any time. We look forward to assisting you. We can also help you get home insurance quotes so that you can compare coverages and pricing – and save money on homeowners insurance.