How Global Warming Affects Your Gadgets

Keep your devices cool to keep them happy

Key Takeaways

  • Record high temperatures around the country mean that you need to protect your gadgets, as well as yourself. 
  • While many electronics are designed to withstand up to 176 degrees Fahrenheit, the commonly recommended temperature limit is 95 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Cell phones, tablets, and laptops are most affected, but any portable device containing a lithium-ion battery can be vulnerable to heat.
Someone in a sunny, yellow field holding a smartphone connected to a power bank.

Victor Prilepa / Getty Images

Climate change could be affecting your gadgets. 

As unprecedented heatwaves continue to impact parts of the country, keep in mind that your electronics are suffering as much as your body temperature. But there are things you can do to keep your gadgets working this summer, experts say. 

"Protecting your cell phone from excessive heat is important for the proper functionality of your device and battery life," Jason Fladhammer, the director of quality assurance at Batteries Plus, told Lifewire in an email interview. "Avoid excessive exposure to the sun, and don't leave your phone in hot vehicles or out on the patio during a hot day."

Sunny Days, Dark Screens

Temperatures are rising around the world. A new temperature record may have been set recently in Death Valley, California, at 130 degrees. According to professors in the College of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, while many electronics are designed to withstand up to 176 degrees Fahrenheit, the commonly recommended temperature limit is 95 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Consistently high temperatures can lead to permanent damage to your device. Some devices can automatically sense high temperatures and will power themselves down to avoid problems. 

"Protecting your cell phone from excessive heat is important for the proper functionality of your device and battery life."

Cell phones, tablets, and laptops are most affected, but any portable device containing a lithium-ion battery can be vulnerable to heat, Fladhammer said.

"Leaving your device in the sun can cause a warning temperature gauge to show," he added. "Excessive heat can cause damage to your phone's internal components, including the battery."

More isn’t always better when it comes to heat and batteries. Limit the charging of your phone or device to about 60-80%, experts at Carnegie Mellon said in a news release. Charging devices entirely uses additional voltage, increasing the chance of thermal runaway and fire risk. 

Keeping Cool

The best way to prevent problems with your devices is to keep them from getting too hot in the first place. Don’t leave electronic devices in your car on hot days, experts advise. 

"Gadgets can also become overheated in simple situations such as a phone being placed in one's pocket for an extended period of time or an individual using a laptop on their lap or a pillow without allowing proper battery ventilation," Fladhammer said. "You can also help protect your devices by keeping them in a case."

If you have to leave electronics in an enclosed space, keep the air flowing to keep devices cool. Mount your phone near the air conditioning vent in your car or have a nearby fan blow air over your laptop.

A cell phone laying on a blue and white striped beach towel with sunglasses and a water bottle.

Oscar Wong / Getty Images

"As sunny days draw you outdoors to swimming pools and baseball games, remember to keep your devices out of direct sunlight," Carnegie Mellon said. "If you must use them outdoors, try to move to a shaded area and limit your usage."

According to Carnegie Mellon, cooling is based on the temperature difference between your hot device and the cooler room. As the room gets hotter, the device also gets hotter to provide enough temperature difference to drive the required heat flow.

Computer chip components experience thermal leakage—a wasting of power—as the temperature increases, Carnegie Mellon said. Eventually, the rise in temperature and leakage reaches a point where the distinction between the "On" and "Off" states disappears. The logic functions can no longer be carried out, and your device stops working until it cools down. 

Keep in mind that it’s not just pocket gadgets that are affected by heat. Electric vehicle batteries will provide a shorter driving range in extreme heat, so plan your trip accordingly, say experts at Carnegie Mellon. 

You should also unplug chargers and turn off power strips when not in use. These devices waste small amounts of electricity that add up, and when extreme temperatures strain the power grid, every bit counts.

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