THE BLOG

How to Help Keep Your AC From Affecting Your Health

05/08/2015 03:31 pm ET | Updated May 08, 2016

As the heat and humidity begin to overwhelm us, we wonder how we'd survive without air conditioning.

It's convenient to turn on the AC as soon as the temperature makes you uncomfortable but doing so could be harmful to more than just your wallet.

Old and poorly-maintained AC units have been shown as factors in many health conditions, including respiratory conditions and the spread of some diseases.

Fortunately, it's quite easy to minimize any such risks.

Since air conditioning is everywhere now -- in our homes, cars and offices -- it's important to maintain clean units to protect indoor air quality and personal well-being.

One popular service you may see advertised is air duct cleaning. While the EPA cannot provide evidence to support the claim that cleaning your home's air ducts every year will reduce health problems, it does recommend having them cleaned if there is visible mold growth or a buildup of dust.

Industry professionals also warn against the health problems associated with visible dust and mold. "There are several reasons to have a professional HVAC technician evaluate or clean your air conditioning system each year before you put it into operation," says Steve Beeler, president of RSC Heating and Air Conditioning. "Most importantly is the health and safety of the occupant."

"The indoor section of an air conditioning unit creates condensation all summer long when the air conditioning unit runs, and is a prime catalyst for mold and mildew growth," says Beeler. "As the system lays dormant over winter, the mold can spread and grow and, if not cleaned properly, can create respiratory problems and what some people refer to as a 'dirty sock odor.' The blower wheel and motor also can become dust covered, which is a food source for mold to thrive."

Had part of your home renovated recently? That's another good reason to have your air ducts cleaned. Home renovations, especially if the changes were made to remove asbestos or lead-based paint, can cause unwanted debris to get caught inside ductwork.

Having this debris cleaned out before you begin using your AC unit for the summer ensures that you don't end up circulating dust and particles from the renovation throughout your home.

In addition to having a professional clean you air ducts, there are other steps you can take to make your air conditioner safer. Read on to learn more about poor air quality and how you can improve it.

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How Can Your AC Unit Cause Poor Air Quality in Your Home?

  • Most residential AC units recirculate indoor air to save energy. This can negatively impact indoor air quality without a minimum of 15 cubic feet of outside makeup air per minute per person.
  • When basic maintenance such as changing the filters is not performed, airflow is restricted.
  • When filters are dirty they don't stop allergens, pesticides and other outside irritants from entering your home.
  • Window units that are not properly sealed let in outside air, undermining the work of the unit. Your AC unit may have to run more and work harder to keep your house at the desired temperature.

How Can You Protect Yourself Against AC Air Pollution?

  • Check the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning or changing your unit's air filters.
  • Open the windows as much as you can. Allow fresh air to circulate in your home and flush out pollutants.
  • Have an HVAC technician perform annual maintenance checks.
  • Buy a new AC unit every 10 years.
  • Turn the temperature up, or turn the unit off altogether, at night or when the house is empty.
  • Try using the fan-only mode on your AC unit.
  • Don't forget about the AC unit in your car. Be sure to change your cabin air filters every 12,000 to 15,000 miles to ensure a clean ride.

There are many small steps you can take to protect yourself and your family against air contamination caused by a dirty air conditioning unit.

Often, it's simply a matter of thinking about it and remembering to act before the summer gets underway.