Is It Okay to Run Your AC During a Thunderstorm

Your air conditioning unit provides great relief during the hot, humid summer. Unfortunately, that steamy weather is also perfect for developing thunderstorms. 

Homeowners in Charlotte, NC, often ask if it is okay to run their air conditioners during these intense storms.

The answer is no. If you run your air conditioning system during a thunderstorm, you risk damaging the unit. Our best advice is to shut it down until the storm passes. 

The good news is that temperatures and humidity both tend to drop in a thunderstorm, so things shouldn’t get too uncomfortable.

Why You Should Turn Off Your Air Conditioning Unit During a Thunderstorm

The primary reason to turn off your AC unit during a thunderstorm is the risk of a lightning strike. Lightning strikes may be a rare occurrence, but the risk is there. When it does happen, the damage done can be quite extensive.

There is a point at the roof of many homes where the utility lines connect to the house. This point is called the electrical drop, and it is very vulnerable to lightning strikes. 

If lightning hits the electrical drop on your home, it will cause a major power surge, impacting your home’s entire electrical system. If any component of your HVAC system is running when this happens, it could be damaged. All of this can happen before any breakers are triggered.

Air Conditioning Damage from Lightning Strikes

Your AC system can suffer a range of serious damage if it is struck by lightning. The intense heat that goes through the system can melt the plug, and there are electrical components inside the air conditioning unit that can be damaged or destroyed. 

This damage could require repair or even replacement of the entire system. Finally, even if the unit appears to work after a lightning strike, the controls that regulate the operation of your AC could be damaged.

The good news is that your AC unit has sufficient insulation, and the refrigerant is not flammable. You won’t have to worry about a fire or explosion if lightning strikes your air conditioner.

Window Units and Lightning Strikes

Lightning can strike a window unit or ductless mini-split. The risk of this increases if the unit is installed on an upper floor of an apartment building or other tall structure. With that being said, this is a fairly rare occurrence. It is generally safe to leave your window units plugged in and turned off.

If lightning does strike one of these air conditioning units, it could melt the plug or power port. The circuit panel may also be damaged. This damage will need to be repaired. In many cases, you may be better off simply having the unit replaced entirely.

If you are concerned about this, simply unplug your window unit. You may plug it back in without incident after the storm is over.

Protecting Your Air Conditioner

Is it possible to protect your system from a lightning strike with a surge protector? Most HVAC professionals agree that this doesn’t work very well. 

Surge protectors don’t provide the protection that would be effective against a lightning strike. Some people do use protection systems that include lightning rods, conductors, and ground rods. These are designed to provide a path for lighting to travel away from the home’s electrical systems.

Keep in mind that these aren’t completely effective. It is still good practice to keep your air conditioner off until the thunderstorm passes.

Are Rain Storms Safe?

As long as there is no lightning, feel free to run your air conditioner when it rains. The outdoor unit is designed to work correctly during rainstorms, and there is no risk of damage. The evaporator coils on the AC can use moisture and lower humidity levels to cool your home more efficiently. 

There is one exception to this advice: If the rain is severe enough to cause flooding, be aware of standing water around your outdoor unit. If water begins to pool around your AC unit, turn it off using the switch on your electrical panel. 

Don’t use the air conditioner after the flooding subsides. Contact a trusted contractor by searching for “AC repair near me.” They will inspect the unit and let you know if any repairs are required.

If Your Air Conditioner is Damaged by Lightning

Unfortunately, you can’t always avoid electrical damage. You may not be home when a thunderstorm hits, or you may be asleep. If this happens, remember that safety is your first concern. Turn off the unit or unplug it if it is a window unit. Then, wait for the storm to subside.

It is best to avoid trying to fix any damage yourself. Also, remember that problems may not show up right away. Make a note of when the storm happened for reference if you notice issues at a later date.

Air Conditioner Repair in Charlotte, NC

If your AC is struck by lightning, you’ll need to have it inspected and repaired. The team at Air Care Heating and Cooling is happy to provide that service. Contact us to schedule a service appointment.