(ABC News) — The appliance many people rely on to keep their homes cool could potentially pose a fire risk. Air conditioners cause an average of 20 deaths, 140 injuries, and $82 million in property damage annually, according to a 2016 report by the National Fire Protection Association.
Experts warn that rising temperatures can strain air conditioning units and, if they are not properly maintained, can turn them into fire hazards.
“If they are overworked and overheated or there are some electrical issues, it can catch nearby combustibles on fire,” Pete Piringer, chief spokesperson for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service in Maryland, told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
But fires can be prevented through proper maintenance, Piringer said. Changing the filter and ensuring adequate power supply to the unit are two safety measures that can help avoid potential problems.
Avoiding the use of extension cords or power strips is also important, he said.
“When you start using extension cords, it can be problematic,” Piringer said. “They can overheat and start a fire.”
Piringer also recommends that people have their units checked once or twice per year by a certified HVAC technician and make sure that space around them is clear.
“Create that circle of safety,” he said. “Make sure you’re clear of certainly any combustible material.”
In a demonstration on “GMA,” Piringer showed how properly anchoring the unit into a window opening ensures that if a fire were to start, the seal between the bracket and the opening will prevent the flames from coming into the house.
The National Fire Protection Association found that from 2010 to 2014, there was an average of 2,800 reports of home structure fires involving air conditioners annually.
In April, an air conditioning unit caused a two-alarm fire at an apartment complex in Tampa, Florida, ABC affiliate WFTS reported.
“I look out my window and the AC unit was on fire,” Carla Alberto, who lives across from the building that caught fire, told WFTS.
“You could see the smoke like 10 minutes away,” witness Latrida Smart told WFTS.