The Fatal Risks of Unmaintained Air-Conditioning Units

By Colm O’Neill

The Unseen Dangers

When summer rolls around and the temperature feels like it just won’t stop rising, there’s nothing more valuable than readily-available air-conditioning. Yet, for all of its comforts, it’s important to remember that air-conditioning units still present a very real fire hazard. In multi-family housing, an improperly maintained air-conditioning unit endangers not only the person responsible for that unit, but everybody else in the building too. According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 2006 and 2010, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 7,200 fires per year involving air-conditioning units. In multi-family housing, this can result in widespread property damage, injury, or even death.

We may feel that with all the resources we have available at our fingertips these days, we can identify any maintenance issue and deal with it ourselves, but in the case of air-conditioning units, the dangers are often hard to spot. Industry studies show that 33% of fires caused by air-conditioning units are the result of a wire or cable insulation catching fire. This can be the result of improper installation or failure to adequately maintain the air-conditioning unit, and the consequences can be dire.

When living in multi-unit apartment complexes or multi-family homes, the dangers of air-conditioning fires are multiplied dramatically. Even aside from the increased risk of personal harm, the risk of property damage also increases exponentially. In 2014 alone, air-conditioning fires caused $213 million in direct property damage. In multi-family housing, this can mean hundreds of people left without a home or even their most basic personal possessions.

The Tenant’s Responsibility

In multi-housing units across the U.S., heat and ventilation are the responsibility of the landlord, but this is not necessarily the case with air-conditioning. If an apartment is rented without air-conditioning and an air-conditioning unit is later installed by the tenant themselves, it is the responsibility of the tenant to maintain the unit. This means that being aware of how to spot potential air-conditioning issues is vital.

First and foremost, it is important to clean the air-conditioner unit’s coils to remove collected debris. Once this is complete, the next step is to check the fins for any accumulated dirt or dust. These processes go some way in establishing air-conditioner safety, but they are not enough on their own. To ensure the safety of you and anyone else in your housing unit, it’s essential to schedule an annual check-up on your air-conditioning unit, so that an expert technician can say for certain that the unit is safe for use.

When the temperature soars and humidity is through the roof, air-conditioning can feel like a life-saver. However, if you’re not careful it can instead become a fire hazard. Being a responsible tenant means making sure your air-conditioning is safe for everyone, and that means never neglecting the necessary maintenance and checks. The consequences of doing so could be life or death.