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3 Ways Air Conditioners Can Cause Fires & How To Prevent Them

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), air conditioners and other related equipment caused 7,400 structural fires in homes in 2010. Since many people run their air conditioners non-stop during the hottest days of the year, it's important to understand what causes air conditioning units to catch fire. Here are three common causes and how to prevent them from happening in your home. 

Damaged Electrical Wire & Cable Insulation

According to the NFPA research, one-third of the fires resulted from ignition of the insulation of the electrical wires and cables. This can happen when the insulation no longer protects the electrical wires and cables. When the insulation is damaged, the electrical current can come in contact with other conductors of electricity, which can be most dry materials.

It is the same principle as when you shuffle across rugs and start to generate static electricity. If you touch a door knob or other metal object, it sparks and pops. When the electrical cord for your air conditioner (or any appliance or electronic device, for that matter) is missing the insulation, a spark can be generated on the wires in a similar way.

It's important to regularly inspect the insulation of the cord. If you find breaks in the insulation, do not use the air conditioner. It is best to unplug it and call your air conditioner repair service to replace the faulty cord. Do not place the cord underneath rugs or carpeting. Do not allow anyone to walk on the cords because that could cause the insulation to crack.

Circuit Breaker Too Large

The role of your circuit breaker is to shut off electricity to the wires if too much amperage is used. If the circuit breaker can handle a capacity of 40 amps, plugging an air conditioner that uses 20 amps will defeat the purpose of the circuit breaker. The air conditioner could malfunction and use twice as much amperage before the circuit breaker will trip. When an appliance uses more amperage than it is designed for, it can easily catch fire due to the amount of heat that is generated in the wires.

Keep in mind, this heat also occurs in the electrical wiring inside the walls of your home. Conversely, if the circuit breaker is too small, the air conditioner will trip the breaker continuously, which defeats the purpose of the air conditioner but is not a fire risk.

Therefore, it's a good idea to call an air conditioning service or an electrician to determine which outlets you can safely plug your air conditioner into. This may mean that you will need to upgrade your circuit breaker, especially if no suitable circuitry is found.

Condensate Leaking Onto Electrical Wiring 

Water and electricity do not mix. Condensation dripping out of your air conditioner and directly onto electrical wiring or an outlet can cause a fire. All air conditioners produce condensation because they also act as dehumidifiers. Air conditioners have pans that collect the condensation and drains that discharges the water that is collected. Make sure your condensate drains out of the unit and away from electrical circuitry and outlets.

Just as with any other drainage system, the condensate drain line of your air conditioner can get clogged, which may cause the condensate to overflow from the pan inside the air conditioner. This can cause the electrical wires and cables inside the air conditioner to get wet and cause a short in the system, which can lead to a fire. Because of this potential problem, it is important to properly maintain your air conditioner with regular cleaning of the muck that can build up in the condensate pan and drain.