Hail Damage to your HVAC system: To Repair or Replace?

Hail Damaged Condenser
Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Systems are in nearly every residence, commercial building and industrial facility across the country. One of the most prominent feature of the HVAC system on the outside of any of these buildings is the air conditioning condenser.

The condenser is a component of the refrigeration cycle that is used to cool the air in the home or building. The condenser removes the heat from the system by using a fan to pull air across a coil that the refrigerant runs through. In order to remove that heat with maximum efficiency, the condensing unit typically features a coil made of copper that is covered with many thin aluminum fins. These condensing units are typically installed in areas that are exposed to outside air such as rooftops or ground pads.

Being outdoors, condenser units are exposed to the hazards of the outdoors, including impact by hailstones. In order for hail to be considered damaging, it must be more than 1 inch in size. The National Weather Service records indicate that from 2010 to 2013, the US experienced an average of nearly 7,000 damaging hail storms per year.

When an A/C condensing unit is truck by hailstones, it can cause damage by denting and deforming the thin aluminum fins that cover the coil. These fins are spaced close together, and when they are deformed, they can press together or bend back against the copper coil. These types of damages can block air flow in that section of the coil.

If enough of the coil is blocked, the fan cannot pull enough air through the fins which will cause the condenser to not function efficiently. This will result in increased running time for the A/C system, improper cooling and a shortened lifespan of the compressor.

Repair or Replace?

When a condenser unit is damaged by hail, it can often be restored to its previous condition by โ€œcombingโ€ the fine fins with a special tool. A fin comb has thin plastic/metal teeth that fit between the aluminum. Doing so can straighten the fins very similar to combing hair. This is typically a far more cost-effective method to restore the efficiency of the condenser.

If the hail damage is extensive, or if large hailstones have caused damage to the copper tubing itself, then it may be necessary to replace the coil. In larger commercial or industrial units, it may be cost-effective to replace just the coil, without the increased costs of a full replacement condenser.
The cost advantage of combing out the hail damage can be substantial in some cases. Combing involves a few hours of labor and does not require the purchase of any materials. Replacing the coil or in most cases an entire condenser unit requires installation labor and material costs.