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Air Conditioner and Fan Safety

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

Photo of ceiling fan

As with other electrical appliances, it’s critical to keep fans and AC units in good working order and to use them correctly. Lack of maintenance or improper use can lead to electric shocks or fires. For example, National Fire Protection Association research shows that each year, fans cause 6% of home fires and air conditioners cause 3%. The Consumer Products Safety Commission estimated in 2017 that air conditioning equipment accounted for 33,000-plus emergency room visits annually and approximately 16 electrocution deaths each year.

The Basics Floor- and ceiling fans and central- and window-air conditioners all have one thing in common: They are powered by electricity so electrical safety precautions apply to each of them. For example:

  • Have an electrician check to be sure your home’s wiring can handle the appliance before installing it.

  • Call a licensed professional to install any hard-wired equipment.

  • Replace any frayed or damaged appliance power cords and don’t use extension cords with the unit.

  • Don’t use the units in any wet or damp area, and dry your hands before working on (or even touching) the appliance.

  • Only purchase appliances and equipment with a label showing that it is approved by a recognized testing laboratory.

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use and care.

Fan Safety Box or floor fans and ceiling fans can be useful tools for keeping you cool on a budget. Used properly and with other methods (keeping draperies closed, opening windows at night and keeping them closed during the heat of the day, reducing humidity and more) fans can reduce energy costs.

However, when the inside temperature reaches about 95 degrees fans can’t prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke. That’s because fans simply move air around; they don’t cool it. Below that temperature, the fan’s breeze helps evaporate sweat from your skin, making you feel cooler.

There are ways to position fans to maximize cooling, such as bringing in cooler outdoor air or blowing out hot air when it’s cooler outside, creating cross ventilation with multiple fans and checking to be sure your ceiling fan is set for the summer season (it should rotate counterclockwise in the summer).

Be sure that ceiling fans are installed as high as possible (at least 7 feet from the ground) to stop people from touching the blades, and any fans on the floor or at a window should be placed to avoid tripping and tipping over, and located in a spot where children or pets can’t poke fingers (or paws) into the blades.

Wherever you place the fan, check to be sure that air intakes aren’t blocked (for example, a curtain might get pulled tight against the fan).

Air conditioner safety Whether your AC unit is a central air or a window unit, service and maintenance should be provided by a licensed professional. Be sure to check and change the filter regularly.

Since window units are more prone to problems because they are readily accessible, it’s important to keep children and pets from getting too close to the unit. In addition:

  • Be sure the window and frame are in good condition so they can securely hold the unit in place.

  • Plug the unit into a dedicated outlet.

  • Don’t put anything on top of the window unit, such as bird feeders or plant containers.

  • Don’t place the unit in a window that serves as a fire escape.

  • Keep pets and children from drinking the drip water from the outside of the unit.

  • To secure window units from being pushed into your home by a burglar, install an air conditioner bracket outside or add sliding window locks to each side of the frame.

  • For greater efficiency and safety, consider replacing window units with a ductless mini-split system, especially if you operate multiple window units. Contact our office for information about mini splits.

Central air units (including heat pump units) have an outdoor condenser that requires good airflow. For that reason, trim back foliage at least 3 feet and keep the area clear of other debris. Before clearing the area, turn off the power to the unit. The outdoor unit should also be hosed down to clean the condenser coils; while some homeowners do this themselves, it’s safest to call on a professional who knows how to safely clean the unit without damaging the fins.

Since mold can grow in the indoor section of an air conditioner, you may need to have your ductwork checked periodically.

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Smart Choices is a monthly e-newsletter, provided by Woodbury County Rural Electric Cooperative that features the latest information on energy-efficiency, electric safety and more.

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