When a heat wave hits, air conditioning changes from a luxury into a life-saving necessity. But what if the very equipment you rely on for cooling is also affecting your health by lowering your indoor air quality? Replacing central air conditioning systems often results in an improvement in the air quality and therefore your family’s health. Proper maintenance of the AC also plays an essential role. Here’s what you need to know about your health, indoor air quality, and how a new air conditioning unit could help.
How Your AC Affects Air Quality
Since your home is an enclosed environment, there is a limited amount of fresh air entering it. Using a central air conditioning unit recirculates the majority of your indoor air. This can work well when the AC filters out particles and moves plenty of air per hour. When you skip essential maintenance tasks like changing the air filters, air flow drops and particles remains in the air. Your AC will fail to take in enough fresh air, which is a minimum of 15 cubic feet of outside makeup air per minute per person in the home. This is particularly true when you forget to change the filters on the fresh air intake vent in your AC system.
Dirty air filters fail to stop the allergens, pollen, pesticides, dust, and other outdoor irritants from mixing into your home’s air supply. If you’re still using window AC units rather than central air conditioners, you’re also likely letting in allergens where the equipment fails to seal tightly to the window opening. Finally, dust and mold can settle in the ducts of your home’s central heating and cooling system. Each time the system turns on to distribute the air, you’re also getting a dose of mold spores or pet dander.
Dirty Air Conditioning Units Cause Health Problems
Skipping maintenance visits and allowing your air conditioner to get dirty can cause a range of problems, from serious long-term health conditions to irritating but reversible symptoms. Some of the health concerns linked to poor air quality include:
- Respiratory issues, from asthma and allergy attacks to obstructive pulmonary disease
- Drying of the sinuses, nasal passages, and skin, leading to more sinus infections and flare-ups of conditions like eczema
- Itchy eyes and difficulty breathing, caused by the amount of particles in the air and poor air quality in general
- Pneumonia and long-term conditions like lung cancer, especially after decades of daily exposure to high levels of irritants
- Higher rates of colds and other viruses, due to the drying effect on the mucus membranes that help push viruses out before they can infect you
- Greater chances for ear infections, especially if mold spores are present in the home since it can grow in the warm and damp environment of the middle and inner ear
- Headaches, especially sinus headaches brought on by irritation in the nasal passages and eyes.
Aside from affecting your health, dirty HVAC equipment and dusty ducts can also make a visual impact on your home. Visible streaking around your air vents is a clear sign that there’s too much particulate in your air and that you need an immediate maintenance visit.
What You Can Do
Whether you have confirmed an air quality problem or just suspect one, replacing central air conditioner parts are a good way to improve both air quality and energy efficiency. You have plenty of options for improving the performance of your air conditioning unit, either through replacement or just better maintenance of the system you currently use.
Start by checking the manufacturer’s recommendations for air filter replacements. Many companies offer a range of recommendations based on the conditions around your home. For example, living on a dirt road that produces a lot of dust or around mature trees that release plenty of pollen may mean changing your filters every month. With less dust and allergens entering through the fresh air intake vent, you may only need new filters every two to three months instead.
Open your windows to let in fresh air for at least 20 minutes a day when possible. This exchange of air can remove a lot of particulate floating in the air without putting much strain on your air conditioning unit.
Schedule at least one maintenance visit from an HVAC technician per year. These maintenance checks are essential at detecting issues that would affect air quality, such as mold growth or leaks in the duct work.
Replace your air conditioner every 10 years for optimal air quality. If you’ve purchased a system with a longer lifespan, pay for a deep cleaning service every five years to keep your air quality as high as possible.
Finally, don’t forget about the air filters in the cabin of your vehicle as well. These filters are usually recommended for replacement at 12,000 to 15,000 mile intervals, and allowing them to get dirty affects the air quality you experience during your daily commute.
If you choose to install a new air conditioning unit, consider a whole house filtration unit for more control over your exposure to allergens and particulate. Contact an HVAC specialist to discuss your options for improving your home’s air quality.