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  • Writer's pictureJason Rankin

Assessing the Impact of Hurricanes on Property and HVAC Systems

Hurricanes pose a significant threat to properties due to their powerful winds, heavy rainfall, and storm surges, which can lead to severe structural damage. When thinking of hurricanes, wind usually comes to mind first, as this is how hurricanes are measured. The Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale measures the intensity of hurricanes based on their sustained wind speeds, categorizing hurricanes into five levels, with Category 1 being the least severe and Category 5 the most extreme. However, even a Category 1 hurricane can cause severe damage. For example, Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall in the US in 2012, caused an estimated $70 billion in damage. The amount of damage caused by a hurricane is also influenced by the size of the storm, its path, and the population density of the areas it affects. The costliest hurricane to strike the United States was Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 storm at landfall, which caused an estimated $125-$200 billion in damages.


When it comes to HVAC damage caused by hurricanes, split systems are particularly vulnerable because they consist of two separate units, with the condensing unit located outdoors. Additionally, packaged units, which are all-in-one metal cabinets comprising an evaporator coil, condenser, and compressor, mostly used in commercial applications, can also be vulnerable as they are typically located on rooftops or outside structures.


Wind damage can manifest in various ways on HVAC systems. The most evident damage is a condensing unit that has been turned on its side or blown off its pad, potentially causing the whip (an electrical conduit that connects an air conditioning system's outdoor unit to its indoor unit) and the refrigerant lines to be bent, torn, or severed. Severe winds can even blow package units off rooftops. Additionally, foreign object impact from wind-blown debris can damage the condenser unit's metal housing, fan blades, fins, and coils. Debris can also clog condenser coils, restricting airflow to the unit. It is crucial to assess each component to determine the extent of damage and the necessary repairs to restore the system to its pre-loss condition.


Regarding water damage, adjusters need to ascertain if the damage was caused by a flood since standard policies typically do not cover flood damage but may cover wind-driven rain. Flood policies for homeowners are usually handled by the National Flood Insurance Program or private flood insurers. Rising floodwater can infiltrate and damage electrical components in condensing units, rendering systems inoperable. Floodwater can also infiltrate air handlers, furnaces, and ductwork located in crawlspaces. Signs of flood damage include flood lines on condensing units or adjacent structural walls, and sagging ductwork in crawlspaces, indicating the presence of floodwater.


HVAC losses from hurricanes can range from minor to severe. However, with the high volume of claims following a hurricane, many HVAC losses are paid for full replacement when a repair could have restored the insured property to its pre-loss condition. It is also easy to overlook service provider quotes that are inflated due to upgraded systems or inflated costs. If Zap Consulting can assist you with an HVAC assignment for a daily or a catastrophe claim, please do not hesitate to contact us.




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