SMO Energy

how to storm proof your home

Maryland is no stranger to storms, from hurricanes and tropical storms in the summer to snowstorms in the winter. While some storms pass quickly and do not cause much damage, others leave households without power for hours or days. Taking steps to prepare your home, including your home’s HVAC equipment, for any storms that might pass by, can help you protect your investment, save money and stay as comfortable as possible during extreme weather. When it comes to storm-proofing HVAC equipment, an ounce of prevention is often worth a pound of cure.

8 Steps to Storm-Proof HVAC Equipment

The best time to prep your home’s heating and cooling system for a storm is well in an advance of any weather events. Here are nine things you can do to the equipment itself and to the area around it to minimize any damage.

1. Schedule an Inspection

Before the next storm arrives, schedule an inspection and tune-up of your HVAC equipment, especially if it has been a while since anyone checked out the system. Regular HVAC maintenance allows you to detect problems and fix them before they require more costly repairs. During a tune-up, a certified and trained technician from SMO Energy will also clean the system and let you know if they recommend any action steps, such as replacing the equipment.

Beyond preparing your equipment for stormy weather, there are multiple benefits of scheduling regular maintenance. There is less of a chance that your system will break down suddenly or unexpectedly if you are keeping an eye on it. Regular tune-ups also keep you up-to-date on your system’s condition. You can plan, and budget for, a replacement when needed if you have a professional technician keeping tabs on the state of the equipment.

2. Tie Down or Put Away Loose Objects

Strong winds can pick up and blow around any items left outdoors, such as lawn furniture and children’s toys. The strongest winds might be able to move grills and other heavy objects. To keep objects from slamming into the exterior part of your HVAC system, potentially denting or otherwise damaging it, it is a good idea to secure things in advance. Bring smaller items, such as toys and chairs, indoors. You can store them in a garage or shed if you do not want to put them in the house. Fold up and put away any patio umbrellas as well.

If you have bigger items in the yard, such as a picnic table or grill, find a way to tie them down to keep them from blowing in the wind. It is critical to secure the propane tank of your gas grill so that it does not blow around in the storm. You might chain the tank or tanks to a concrete patio to secure them.

prune trees

3. Prune Trees and Take Care of Landscaping

Flying objects are not the only things that can fall on your HVAC equipment in the middle of a storm, causing damage. The branches of shrubs and trees, and in some cases, even the trees themselves, can also fall and damage equipment. Before a storm arrives, inspect the vegetation around your property. Arrange to have any dead trees removed or to prune away any dead branches. If a branch hangs over the exterior unit of your HVAC system, it might be a good idea to prune it away. While dead branches are more likely to be affected by strong winds, if the wind speeds are fast enough, there is a chance that they could tear healthy branches off as well.

If there are a number of potted plants on your property, you might want to move them to an indoor location before a storm. The plants can stay in a shed or garage or on the lower level of your home, waiting out the wind and rain.

4. Get a Whole-Home Surge Protector Professionally Installed by an Electrician

If the storm is accompanied by thunder and lightning, there is a chance that lightning will strike a power line, causing a surge of power to flow into homes in an area. A power surge can quickly fry the electrical systems of your home’s appliances, including your HVAC system. Installing a whole-home surge protector in advance of a storm gives you the peace of mind that your home’s necessary and expensive equipment will be protected if a power surge should course through the electrical circuit.

When everything is normal, a surge protector allows the electrical current to flow to the devices and appliances in your home. But the instant the voltage becomes higher than it should be, the surge protector sends the extra voltage to a ground wire, keeping it from reaching the appliances themselves. Once the surge is over, the device restores the normal voltage flow.

You should NEVER use an outlet surge protector for any HVAC equipment.Your best option is to have an electrician install a whole-home surge protector at the breaker box. The process will cost more than buying outlet protectors, but it also costs considerably less than what you might need to spend to replace equipment damaged in a surge.

If you do not have time to install a surge protector before the storm arrives, switch your HVAC equipment’s circuit breaker off for the duration of the storm.

5. Cool Your Home

When high winds, heavy rain and lightning are predicted, there is a chance that you might not be able to use your home’s HVAC system during the storm. To help make your home comfortable, it is a good idea to cool it as much as possible before the storm strikes. Turn the thermostat down to a temperature that is a few degrees below its usual setting to help make your home cool and comfortable before extreme weather strikes. It is also a good idea to keep the windows closed to prevent warm air from getting in and to close the blinds or curtains to block out the heat from the sun.

6. Consider Installing a Back-Up Generator

Power loss is possible during either a summer or winter storm. How long the power loss lasts can have a considerable impact on your family’s overall comfort. An extended power loss can also be dangerous, as food in your refrigerator might spoil, or the pipes might freeze without a source of heat in the winter. Installing a standby generator is a good idea, especially if you have experienced extended power outages in the past.

Standby generators live on your property and are pretty much always ready to go. They turn on automatically once the main source of power to your home cuts off. Depending on the size of the generator, it might be enough to power all of the appliances and equipment in your home, or it might be able to provide power to the most critical devices.

anchor oil

7. Hire a Professional to Anchor Oil and Propane Tanks

Along with protecting the HVAC equipment inside and outside of your home, it is a smart idea to also storm-proof the tank that holds your heating fuel. Whether you use heating oil or propane gas, the tank that stores the fuel needs to be anchored. An unanchored tank can float away in a flood, potentially spilling. An unanchored tank can also crash into the walls of your house, damaging the home or denting the tank.

Even if an unanchored tank does not float away in high floodwaters, there is a chance that it will tip over, especially if there are strong winds. A tipped-over tank can leak oil onto the ground, causing environmental damage.

Anchoring a tank is very risky and dangerous if not done by a professional. We recommend hiring professionals to do the work for you, ensuring it is securely attached and reducing the risk of damage to the tank itself.

8. Stock up on Supplies

As you focus on storm-proofing your HVAC equipment before a hurricane or other significant weather event, do not forget to prep your home and family in other ways. It is a good idea to have at least a 3-day supply of clean water available, at least a gallon per person, per day. Also have non-perishable, no-cooking-required food on hand.

If a winter storm is on its way, have plenty of blankets and warm clothing available, in case your heating system should go out temporarily. In the summer, you can try soaking handkerchiefs in cold water and tying them around your neck to keep cool if the air conditioning stops working.

after a storm

Steps to Take After a Storm

After the storm has passed, it is time to take stock and assess the damage, if there is any. When it is safe to do so, head outside to the HVAC unit. Look for signs of damage, such as dents or marks. If you have an outdoor oil or propane tank, also inspect it for damage.

It is usually a good idea to wait until daylight to inspect your home’s exterior equipment. That way, you won’t accidentally step on broken objects or trip on branches that might have come loose during the storm.

Be cautious about going into your basement after a storm, especially if it has flooded. While you might want to turn the circuit breakers for your HVAC system back on, your best bet is to wait until the area is fully dry to do so.

As you restore power to your HVAC system, do so slowly. Turn the breaker on and give it time to reset itself before you switch on the thermostat, if possible. Pay attention to any noises the system makes. If you hear whistling, shrieking or clunking, that could be a sign that the system has been damaged in some way. Turn the HVAC equipment off again and contact SMO Energy. One of our technicians will come by your home to take a look at the equipment and diagnose the issue.

If you have an oil or propane tank on your property, check it out for signs of damage following the storm. If you notice signs of a leak, such as a pool of oil at the base of the tank, or if you smell gas or oil, take extra precautions. Your best bet, if you think the tank has developed a leak, is to leave the system off and to call a technician from SMO Energy immediately to come to take a look. With propane in particular, if you suspect a leak it’s important to leave the house before calling for help (call the fire department and a technician). 

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Request a Free Energy Consultation From SMO Energy Today

Are your home and HVAC equipment ready for the next storm? You can count on the professional technicians at SMO Energy to help you get ready. We perform HVAC maintenance and service at homes across Southern Maryland. We also offer oil or propane tank replacement, as needed.

If you have any questions or concerns about the state of your HVAC equipment or about the storm-proofing process, get in touch with us today. One of our technicians will visit your home, discuss your concerns and needs with you and make recommendations based on them.