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How Hail Can Damage Your Air Conditioner and How to Protect It

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The earth receives moisture in many forms – one of them is pellets of frozen rain known as hail. Hailstones can range from the size of a pea to as large as a golf ball, or even a baseball. The National Weather Service reports 7,000 hail storms each year with hail larger than 1-inch. It’s easy to see how something this size could cause some serious damage, especially to your air conditioning unit.

What’s most vulnerable to hail damage

The part of your AC most vulnerable is the condenser unit. This is the part that takes air from inside your home, cools it by running it over refrigerated coils, then blows it back inside. It’s composed of a condenser coil, refrigerant, a compressor, fan, and fins. Some protection is provided by a metal cabinet or wire cage, but hail can bounce into the side and smash the fins. These fins are thin and flexible – it doesn’t take much to flatten them. If hail is large enough, it can damage the aluminum or copper tubes inside the coil. It can also bend or crack off a fan blade. The fan may still run, but may cause long term damage if it wobbles, and a severely bent or cracked off fan blade can lead to a complete shut-down of the unit.

Not just a cosmetic problem – also an efficiency problem

When hail damage warps or smashes the fins, the air flow is restricted. Less air gets pulled from the house, brought over the coils to chill, then pumped back inside. Your condenser coil also removes heat from the house and releases it outside. With damage that blocks air flow, your unit is working harder and producing less.

All of this shortens the life of your equipment, because when one part is damaged, the rest of the system is affected, leading to a ripple effect of:

What should you do?

If you know a storm is coming, you can simply place a tarp over the unit to protect it – but be sure you turn it off first. Also, you can purchase a hail guard, which is a screen filter made from a heavy-duty fiber.

If hail does flatten the fins on your AC unit, they can be combed out. Fin combs have thin plastic or metal “teeth” that fit between the aluminum slats – but you should have a qualified technician do this job.

If your condenser is severely damaged, it may need to be replaced. And even as little as 10% damage can negatively affect your system. And you may not even be able to see what damage there is from the outside. If you think there might be damage, its’s best to contact an HVAC professional to inspect it.

Hail damage is often addressed by homeowner’s insurance, however, so check with your insurance agent to see if damage to your air conditioner is covered.

 

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