Power surges can damage HVAC systems, with repairs often costing $1,200-$2,500; installing surge protectors mitigates this risk effectively.

Introduction to Power Surges in HVAC Systems

Understanding Power Surges

Power surges are quick, intense bursts of electricity that can wreak havoc on electrical systems. These include power outages caused by lightning strikes or simply turning on high-power electrical loads. A single lightning strike can release up to 1 billion volts.

How HVAC Systems Are Affected

Power surges are particularly damaging to HVAC systems (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units). They rely on complex electronic controls and sensors to work as intended. These components can become overloaded after experiencing a powerful power surge, causing them to fail quickly or break down slowly. Power surges can burn out the compressor in an air conditioning unit, destroying it, which can mean a replacement compressor can cost $1,200 to $2,500 or more.

At this point, you should know that there are various types of components in an HVAC system that can become dirty, clogged, or otherwise affected, affecting its performance.

HVAC systems have many components, some of which are particularly vulnerable to power surges:

Prevention and Remedies

Surge Protectors Surge protectors are an excellent, low-cost way to effectively protect your HVAC system from power surges. A whole-house surge protector will help divert excess voltage to prevent damage to your HVAC system. Regular maintenance and ensuring your home electrical system is up to code are other simple ways to reduce the damage caused by power surges. Plus, it provides reliability to your insurance policy, which we would like to add covers damage caused by power surges.

The Mechanics of Power Surges

Sources of Power Surges

Power surges have many causes and can severely damage your electrical system. Lightning strikes are one of the most spectacular power surges, injecting millions of volts into the grid. 30% of power surges in the United States are caused by lightning strikes. In particular, the main causes of high voltage are re-energization, fault interference, and overvoltage caused by many high-demand electrical devices (such as refrigerators, air conditioners).

How Power Surges Propagate in Electrical Systems

During a power surge, electricity travels through the wires in a building, looking for a path to the ground. This voltage surge travels at over 170 volts in a typical 120-volt system in a split second. This extra voltage flows through the wires and can eventually find its way into critical components in your HVAC system, causing them to overheat and malfunction. While a power surge can enter through the main power line, it can also enter through phone lines, coaxial cables, and even satellite connections.

Effects on HVAC System Components

There are many fragile parts in an HVAC system that can be damaged by voltage spikes. For example:

Ways to reduce the consequences of damage

There are a few strategic steps you can take to minimize the damage caused by power surges:

Potential Damage to HVAC Components

Compressor Failure

The compressor is another important component of all HVAC units. Its job is to move refrigerant back and forth from the evaporator to the condenser coils. A power spike can overload the compressor, causing damage that can cost an estimated $1,200 to $2,500 to repair. This damage is usually caused by a high voltage spike, because the electrical short created within the motor windings persists and the compressor will not operate.

Burnt Capacitors

HVAC systems require capacitors to start and run motors. They act as a source of stored electrical energy and release that energy when it is needed to start the motor. Burnt Capacitors: Power surges can cause capacitors to explode and leak (see swollen capacitors) Replacing a capacitor can cost between $100 and $400, but it can cause more serious problems if repairs aren't done quickly enough.

Damaged Circuit Boards

The circuit board is basically the brains of your HVAC, and it controls a number of major functions and operations. A power surge can burn out the system, causing it to not power on. As an example, a new circuit board can cost between $200 and $600. In extreme cases, you may need to replace your HVAC system entirely.

Thermostat Failure

A proper thermostat is the user interface that provides the desired ambient temperature setting for the HVAC system. If there is a power surge, it can burn out the thermostat's internal components, preventing it from reading the temperature correctly or even at all. Replacement thermostats typically cost between $100 and $300, but can cost more if the system needs to be reprogrammed by a professional.

Motor and Fan Failure

The motors and fans in your HVAC system are responsible for directing the air. This can lead to reduced efficiency or complete failure, as the excess power generated by a power surge burns out these motors. Depending on the make and model of your HVAC system, the typical cost of replacing a motor is around $200 to $1,500. When the fan stops working, the system can overheat, burning out other parts of the computer and making repairs more expensive.

Real World Damage Example

A homeowner in Florida experienced a destructive power surge during a storm and was nearly unable to repair their HVAC system. The power surge caused the compressor to fail and capacitors and circuit boards to burn out. $3,000 repair bill highlights the need for surge protection and system inspections

Steps to prevent damage

Homeowners can take several preventative measures to reduce surge burnout:

Signs Your HVAC Has Experienced a Surge

Unusual Noises

The first sign of a power surge in your HVAC system is hearing strange noises coming from the unit. If you hear a humming, buzzing, or clicking noise that you haven't heard before, it could mean that some of its electrical work has been affected. A common occurrence is a humming noise when the motor is running, then shuts off, and doesn't carry over to the wires.

Frequently Tripping Breakers

Frequently Tripping Breakers: A tripped HVAC system breaker (whether it's new or has never been tripped) is a strong sign that the system needs electrical repairs, and potential power surges, ground faults, or shorts in the branch circuit wiring could be the culprit. This can cause a short in the system, causing the breaker to trip due to the increased power consumption of the system. If one of these is coming from a vent, you should have a technician check your system to avoid a worse situation.

System Won't Turn On

If your HVAC system won't turn on, it's most likely a power surge damage. Such an incident can burn out circuit boards and other critical parts of the entire system, rendering the system inoperable. One common repair is a damaged control board that causes the thermostat display to go blank or stop responding altogether.

Temperature Control This is the most troublesome and most frequent problem in twin-tub washing machines, as almost every user will encounter this problem.

One of the symptoms of such systems being damaged by power surges is that your HVAC system cannot maintain a constant temperature. A damaged sensor or control system can cause room temperature fluctuations. This can include the thermostat or control board not working properly, if the temperature in your home is not high enough despite the higher temperature setting.

Burnt Odor or Visible Damage

HVAC units that emit smoke or a burning odor, or obvious visible damage such as burnt wires or components are the main warning signs of power surges. Power surges can also cause electrical components to burn out, which can be easily identified by the foul smell. Another thing you can do is to look inside the unit to see if there is anything burnt or melted so that you know what the problem is.

High Electricity Bills

Your HVAC System Has Experienced Power Surges We have already discussed that frequent power surges can blow your fuses, but what would you think if we told you that your HVAC system could also be at risk? Damaged components are often the reason why the system is overworking, which causes it to consume more energy. For example, they run non-stop, which can result in excessive energy consumption without adequate cooling if the compressor is damaged.

Comprehensive Inspection and Diagnosis

If you think your HVAC system has been damaged by a power surge, the best thing to do is to have an expert take a closer look. Using diagnostic tools, technicians can diagnose, trace back, and verify the power surge damage to ensure that all affected parts are repaired or replaced. All of this is necessary to get the system back in top working order and stop further damage to the system.

Preventive Measures to Protect Your HVAC

Whole-House Surge Protector Installation

One of the latter components is a whole-house surge protector. These are typically installed at your home’s main electrical panel and prevent any extra voltage from entering your HVAC system and other appliances in your home. Wholesale Surge Protection Best Whole-House Surge Protectors Quality wholesale surge protectors can handle up to 40,000 amps, giving you peace of mind against the strongest surges.

Point-of-Use Surge Protectors

Whole-house protection is the best option, but adding point-of-use surge protectors to individual HVAC components provides an extra layer of safety. These protectors can be installed directly at the thermostat or on the circuit board. For example, installing an in-line protector at the thermostat can prevent surges from damaging the delicate electronics inside—which would otherwise cost $100-200 to replace.

Ensure Proper Grounding and Bonding

Grounding and bonding your home electrical system protects you from the disastrous consequences of the aforementioned surges by dispersing them harmlessly into the soil. With grounding, the overvoltage has an effective path to travel, greatly reducing the likelihood of HVAC system damage. Making sure your electrical system meets the standards in the National Electrical Code (NEC) will greatly reduce the likelihood of sustaining surge damage.

Maintain Your Standard HVAC System

Maintaining your HVAC system can detect and mitigate problem areas before they become larger problems. Performing regular inspections and having your HVAC serviced by professionals can help ensure that all of your components are functioning properly and can withstand minor surges without breaking down. For example, if your air conditioning system's voltage is off-standard (too high or too low), maintenance tasks may involve confirming the integrity of electrical connections, testing capacitors and motors, and confirming the operation of all protective devices.

Upgrading to Surge-Resistant HVAC Equipment

Most of the more modern HVAC systems include surge protection. Newer systems with these features protect against surges themselves, so upgrading to a newer system may be a good choice. In some cases, high-efficiency models have more complex circuitry to help protect against surges, so they are less likely to burn out.

Use an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)

An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS): protects your HVAC from potential damage from power surges and can power equipment during temporary power outages. It balances the voltage supplied to the system, ensuring a steady and clean power supply. This is great for important components that are sensitive to voltage surges, such as thermostats and management forums.

Consider Surge Insurance

While these can prevent damage to a large extent, now is also a good time to talk about surge insurance. Most homeowners insurance policies offer surge protection as an option, which will pay for the repair or replacement of devices and appliances damaged by power surges. Review your policy, getting this coverage can provide you with some financial relief.