Dangers of Window-Mounted Air Conditioners

Recently, the ABC program Good Morning America did a story describing the fire risks posed by air conditioners. According to a National Fire Protection Association study quoted by the piece, air conditioners are the cause of roughly 2,800 home fires per year.

While the “Air Conditioner Dangers” piece is definitely worth a watch, it’s also worthwhile to spend some time digging into the report as well.

The NFPA data indicates that window-mounted air conditioners pose an outsized risk.

The NFPA website features a page specifically on the fire risks of air conditioners, with a link to a detailed 2012 study. In the study, the authors point out that, “Room air conditioners appear to have a higher fire risk relative to usage than central air conditioning, but reported fire incident data no longer separate the two.”

They go on to say that while the ratio of households using room air conditioners versus central ACs is 1-to-3 (i.e. 25% of homes use room air conditioners), the ratio of all room AC- versus central AC-related fires is 3-to-5 (i.e. 37.5% of fires are caused by window AC units).

Adjusting for the relative frequency of these two types of ACs—to look at how many fires would be expected in equal numbers of window units and central units—indicates that window-mounted AC units are 1.8 times more likely than central ACs to cause a house fire.

This increased fire risk with window AC units is likely due to poor installation and usage practices.

Elsewhere in the study, it mentions that 38% of AC fires originated with the ignition of an electrical wire, or the insulation covering such wires. Likely culprits, as mentioned in the Good Morning America video, are:

  • Window unit electrical cables
  • Extension cords used to power window units
  • Home electrical wiring overtaxed due to a window unit being plugged into a power strip or plug splitter

It is especially imperative to consider this information now, as July and August account for 20% and 18% of all air conditioning-related fires for the entire year. In other words, we’re just starting the two month period in which nearly 40% of all AC-related house fires start.

How you can minimize the fire risk of your air conditioner.

For starters, if you use a window unit, make sure that the power cable is in good condition, with no nicks, tears, or signs of overheating.

If you can at all help it, do not plug it into an extension cord or power strip—plug it directly into a wall outlet. If you must use an extension cord, use a 12 or 14 gauge cord that is as short as possible, and which is indicated specifically for use with window ACs. Make sure that the draw of your window AC doesn’t exceed the cord’s rating (for example, the product overview of the linked cord indicates that it has a 15 amp, 1,875 watt maximum capacity—it would be unsafe to use with an AC over that rating).

Lastly, make sure that you clean your air conditioner’s filter regularly, and ensure that the intake and exhaust are unobstructed, with at least 3 feet of clearance. If you see any sign of electrical failure or improper operation, cease using your unit until you can have it inspected by an air conditioning expert.

However, the best bet for ensuring your safety is to have a new central air conditioner professionally installed. As the study showed, central ACs do cause fires as well, and much of this is likely due to improper installation. The experts at Gilmore Heating Air & Plumbing can help you select the AC that’s right for your home, install it so that it will work safely and properly, and give you tips on how to ensure safe, reliable operation in the future.

To learn how Gilmore can keep your home cool and safe, give us a call at 888-868-2316, or use our contact form to schedule an appointment. It’s hot out there, so don’t wait!

How to Stay Cool if Your AC Fails

This week we’ll see another page come off the calendar as August gives way to September. But while this may mean cool autumn weather for some areas of the country, the summer has a lot of life left in it.

According to CBS Sacramento, the temperatures over the weekend (August 26th and 27th) crushed all-time records for those dates since weather record-keeping began in Sacramento in 1877, with highs of 105 and 108 degrees. And the next few days aren’t looking to be too much of an improvement.

 

When Sacramento’s temperatures get this hot, it’s downright dangerous.

It’s deceptively easy to overheat once temperatures hit triple digits, even if you’re a longtime resident and feel that you’re used to the weather. A few extra minutes out in the sun when you’re running errands can make a big difference. And it’s in this kind of weather that aging air conditioning systems tend to break down—when they’re working at their hardest.

So, what can you do if your air conditioner fails in order to keep your family safe?

Just like in a medical emergency, you want to make sure that you have expert assistance on the way. So first, you need to call Gilmore Heating Air & Plumbing immediately at 888-868-2316, or make an appointment online ASAP for air conditioner repair. When it gets this hot, we get busy, fast. You want to make sure that you get scheduled as soon as you can, so that you minimize the wait.

Once you know that you have an appointment for one of our AC technicians to come out and fix the problem, then it’s a matter of making sure that your family stays safe and comfortable.

How do you stay cool and healthy in the heat without air conditioning?

If your air conditioner has just failed and your home is currently cool, try to keep it that way. Keep windows and doors closed, and close all blinds and curtains. As long as it’s cool, stay indoors.

If your house is too warm to comfortably inhabit, make a day-trip of it. Go to the mall, your local library, or somewhere else indoors and air-conditioned. Do your best to minimize heat exposure.

If you have to head outdoors, wear a hat and sunglasses, and consider putting on sunscreen as well.

Make sure to drink lots of water. Do not wait until you’re thirsty. If you’re exposed to temperatures above 90 degrees or so, you should be drinking at least a couple glasses of water per hour.

Watch out for signs of dehydration and heat stress, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle cramping
  • Disorientation and difficulty thinking
  • Rapid shallow breathing
  • Clammy skin
  • A lack of sweat in high temperatures

If you start noticing these signs, you need to hydrate immediately, and then find shelter somewhere cool. If your symptoms worsen, it’s time to seek medical attention.

This time of year is very deceptive. It’s late in the year, and many of us are anticipating pumpkin spice drinks and pleasant fall weather. But you need to be on your guard, as Sacramento and surrounding areas are capable of generating dangerous 100+ degree weather as late as early October. We’re not out of the woods yet.

So if your air conditioner fails or is showing signs of failing, you need to get it repaired now. Gilmore can help. Give us a call at 888-868-2316, or send us a message using our appointment contact form!