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What Lightning Can Do to Your HVAC System

Florida summers are no stranger to potentially strong weather, often including lightning storms. With high humidity and a large amount of static electricity in the air, monsoon rains featuring lightning are pretty commonplace. However, while being struck by lightning is an extraordinarily rare occurrence, it’s not unheard of for lightning to strike buildings, including offices and homes alike.

A lightning strike on your home could also present a serious problem for your HVAC system. Because lightning is a gigantic release of static electricity, it could have a serious impact and possibly even destroy anything that’s plugged in at the time. On this blog, we’ll explain what happens to your HVAC system during a lightning strike and how you can prepare for it.

What Lightning Does to Your Home

There are a few things you need to know about lightning. First: lightning is a gigantic surge of power in the range of millions of volts. Second, it behaves exactly as electricity does, which is to say it’s constantly looking for the shortest path of least resistance to get to the ground. Air is actually a really strong insulator against electrical charges, which means the charge needs to overcome a tremendous amount of resistance in order to arc from its origination point in the clouds to anything down below. Taller objects decrease this distance, thus reducing the resistance, and encouraging lightning strikes. This is why lightning tends to strike tall, metal objects: they’re excellent conductors and greatly reduce the amount of energy needed for the charge to jump.

For this reason, it’s exceedingly rare that lightning strikes your outdoor air conditioning unit. Your outdoor unit is usually somewhere in the range of about three feet to three and a half feet tall. Even the shortest homes have a roof that’s usually 12 feet or more above the ground, thus meaning lightning is more likely to strike your roof, so long as there’s minimal resistance for the charge to reach the ground. When it’s wet and rainy, it’s perfectly possible that your home becomes this object of less resistance that the charge is drawn to.

However, a single lightning strike can send a million-plus-volt surge of electricity through your home’s electrical grid. That’s enough power to damage nearly anything that’s plugged in at the time, from small objects like computers and cell phones to major appliances like your refrigerator, microwave, television, and, yes, even your HVAC system. Sending millions of volts of energy through sensitive electronic components can fry them in an instant, making them completely useless and requiring you to replace them. This is known as a “power surge.”

Protecting Yourself

So how can you protect yourself from a sudden power surge with the magnitude of a lightning strike? The first thing is to protect your home by giving lightning a free path to the ground through a lightning rod. A lightning rod is a tall metal rod connected to a metal wire that runs down into the ground below your home. When the rod is mounted on the highest point of your roof, the low resistance to reach the ground causing lightning to strike this particular feature, sending the charge safely down to the ground and preventing it from damaging your home and anything inside.

Second, because lightning strikes are so unpredictable, many people will choose to plug in their most sensitive electronics behind devices known as “surge protectors.” Surge protectors are special devices that monitor the voltage and current of the power flowing through them. Should a surge happen, the sudden overload of electricity causes the protector to trip, blowing a fuse and shutting off the connection between your electrical system and the device plugged into it. This may cause the surge protector to need replaced, but it will save the device plugged in from blowing out.

Finally, if you really want to protect your HVAC system, the best way to do so is to not only install your system on a surge protector, but to unplug your system entirely when thunderstorms start to appear. Unplugging your devices ensures that they remain completely protected in the event of a lightning strike, and thus preventing you from having to replace them or undertake extensive repairs.

If your HVAC system suffers serious damage as a result of an electric surge, call the Palm Beach County air conditioning repair experts at Phoenix Air Conditioning, LLC at (888) 660-4337 today!
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