Could Your Air Conditioner Be Making You Sick

Could Your Air Conditioner Be Making You Sick?

On a scorching summer day, air conditioners do more than help you stay comfortable indoors. They help protect against such serious maladies as heatstroke and filter out some pollutants and allergens.

Air conditioners can be especially important for people with lung or heart disease who might struggle to breathe easily when air is hot and humid, says Norman Edelman, M.D., a senior science adviser for the American Lung Association. But without proper care and maintenance, air conditioners also have the potential to cause health problems, especially when mold grows inside them. Here, how to stay cool and healthy when using portable or window air conditioners.

Watch for Mold

The mold that finds a way into your home can cause such symptoms as throat irritation, wheezing, and congestion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Living with a moldy air conditioner “would increase your chances of having a respiratory infection,” says Mark Mendell, Ph.D., an affiliate scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who has studied the health effects of ventilation systems. Here's how to know whether mold has taken up residence in your air conditioner and how to prevent that from happening.

Check the angle: Make sure a window air conditioner isn’t tilted into the interior of your home. It should be tilted slightly toward the exterior, Regan says. When it’s tilted the wrong way, rain can end up inside, and the slow buildup of moisture can create mold.

Keep a portable drained: If you’re using a portable air conditioner, it most likely has a little light that will indicate when the water reservoir needs to be drained. When you see that light, open the drain plug—usually located at the bottom of the unit—and drain the water into a tub or outdoor area, Regan says. Standing water can “attract all kinds of mold,” Edelman says. During the off-season, you should store the unit drained, with the cap off, so it can air out.

Banish Bad Air
Avoid buying a window unit with a vent—a small opening that lets in air from the outside—especially if the air quality where you live might be poor, say, near a power plant or a school where buses idle.

You want to avoid letting in particulates like diesel exhaust that can cause or exacerbate health problems such as asthma and lung inflammation. Vents can also let in pollen, ragweed, and other allergens, so if you're sensitive enough to avoid opening the windows, stay away from vents as well. (Very few air conditioners have a vent; most only recirculate air from the interior of your living space.)

You should also make sure an air conditioner's side panels are installed snugly against the side of the window frame so that hazardous outside air can’t creep in. For extra protection, use the foam strips that come with most air conditioners and lay them across the top and underneath the air conditioner when you’re installing it to create a better seal.

EE&G is a licensed Mechanical Contractor in Florida and Georgia and has a trained team designated to cleaning and sanitizing air conveyance systems to include air handlers, ductwork, and all air conveyance system components. EE&G uses State-of-the-Art equipment, work practices and a licensed, certified, and thoroughly trained workforce to clean and sanitize air conveyance systems.

Avoid Quick Temperature Changes

If you have asthma, you might experience respiratory problems if you breathe in very cold air after being out in the heat. Older people often have a hard time with extreme changes in temperature as well, according to the CDC.
Avoid these sudden shifts by decreasing the temperature gradually when you come back inside during the summer, Edelman suggests. And if you suffer from a respiratory condition, try to avoid going directly from very cold air to very hot air.

COVID-19

COVID-19 HVAC DECONTAMINATION

One of the best ways to ensure that the air in your home is clean is to clean your air vents. The air ducts in your house contain millions of particles of dust, hair, dirt, pollen, spider webs and other allergens [source: Alpine Air Duct]. Cleaning your air vents will also save you money on heating and air conditioning. So read the tips listed below and learn about how you can clean the air vents in your house.

  • Here's what you'll need:
  • Heavy-duty vacuum
  • Screwdriver
  • Broom
  • Cleaning Brush

Here's what to do:

Turn off the power connected to the heating and air conditioning system.
Unscrew the air duct covers or grilles from the walls. Use your brush to clean the grates thoroughly. If they're very dusty and grimy, you may want to use soap and water to make them gleam.

Vacuum the ducts as much as possible. Consider renting a heavy-duty vacuum for this purpose. The standard household vacuum isn't powerful enough to clean deep into the crevices of the ducts. Make sure that the vacuum you rent has a long hose to reach deep into the ducts. This is important, as there may be mold and mildew growing inside the air ducts [source: Repair Home]. If you want the ducts to be cleaned more thoroughly, consider hiring a professional to do the job.

Clean the grilles in your ceiling. If you can't reach them with the vacuum or screwdriver, use a broom to attack the dust. Remember that if you haven't cleaned them for a long time, you will want to protect yourself from all the dust and debris that will fall down by wearing a dust mask.

EE&G HVAC DECONTAMINATION:

EE&G is a licensed Mechanical Contractor in Florida and Georgia and has a trained team designated to cleaning and sanitizing air conveyance systems to include air handlers, duct work, and all air conveyance system components. EE&G uses State-of-the-Art equipment, work practices and a licensed, certified, and thoroughly trained workforce to clean and sanitize air conveyance systems.

Deciding Whether or Not to Have Your Air Ducts Cleaned

Deciding Whether or Not to Have Your Air Ducts Cleaned

Knowledge about the potential benefits and possible problems of air duct cleaning is limited. Since conditions in every home are different, it is impossible to generalize about whether or not air duct cleaning in your home would be beneficial.

If no one in your household suffers from allergies or unexplained symptoms or illnesses and if, after a visual inspection of the inside of the ducts, you see no indication that your air ducts are contaminated with large deposits of dust or mold (no musty odor or visible mold growth), having your air ducts cleaned is probably unnecessary. It is normal for the return registers to get dusty as dust-laden air is pulled through the grate. This does not indicate that your air ducts are contaminated with heavy deposits of dust or debris; the registers can be easily vacuumed or removed and cleaned.

On the other hand, if family members are experiencing unusual or unexplained symptoms or illnesses that you think might be related to your home environment, you should discuss the situation with your doctor. EPA has published the following publications for guidance on identifying possible indoor air quality problems and ways to prevent or fix them.

You may consider having your air ducts cleaned simply because it seems logical that air ducts will get dirty over time and should occasionally be cleaned. While the debate about the value of periodic duct cleaning continues, no evidence suggests that such cleaning would be detrimental, provided that it is done properly.

On the other hand, if a service provider fails to follow proper duct cleaning procedures, duct cleaning can cause indoor air problems. For example, an inadequate vacuum collection system can release more dust, dirt and other contaminants than if you had left the ducts alone. A careless or inadequately trained service provider can damage your ducts or heating and cooling system, possibly increasing your heating and air conditioning costs or forcing you to undertake difficult and costly repairs or replacements.

You should consider having the air ducts in your home cleaned if:

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There are substantial visible mold growth inside hard surface (e.g., sheet metal) ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system. There are several important points to understand concerning mold detection in heating and cooling systems:

  • Many sections of your heating and cooling system may not be accessible for a visible inspection, so ask the service provider to show you any mold they say exists.
  • You should be aware that although a substance may look like mold, a positive determination of whether it is mold or not can be made only by an expert and may require laboratory analysis for final confirmation. For about $50, some microbiology laboratories can tell you whether a sample sent to them on a clear strip of sticky household tape is mold or simply a substance that resembles it.
  • If you have insulated air ducts and the insulation gets wet or moldy it cannot be effectively cleaned and should be removed and replaced.
  • If the conditions causing the mold growth in the first place are not corrected, mold growth will recur.
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Ducts are infested with vermin, e.g. (rodents or insects)

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Ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.

Other Important Considerations

How to Clean Air Vents In a House

How to Clean Air Vents In a House?

One of the best ways to ensure that the air in your home is clean is to clean your air vents. The air ducts in your house contain millions of particles of dust, hair, dirt, pollen, spider webs and other allergens [source: Alpine Air Duct]. Cleaning your air vents will also save you money on heating and air conditioning. So read the tips listed below and learn about how you can clean the air vents in your house.

Here's what you'll need:

Here's what to do:

  1. Turn off the power connected to the heating and air conditioning system [source: Reliable Remodeler].
  2. Unscrew the air duct covers or grilles from the walls. Use your brush to clean the grates thoroughly. If they're very dusty and grimy, you may want to use soap and water to make them gleam.
  3. Vacuum the ducts as much as possible. Consider renting a heavy-duty vacuum for this purpose. The standard household vacuum isn't powerful enough to clean deep into the crevices of the ducts. Make sure that the vacuum you rent has a long hose to reach deep into the ducts. This is important, as there may be mold and mildew growing inside the air ducts [source: Repair Home]. If you want the ducts to be cleaned more thoroughly, consider hiring a professional to do the job.
  4. Clean the grilles in your ceiling. If you can't reach them with the vacuum or screwdriver, use a broom to attack the dust. Remember that if you haven't cleaned them for a long time, you will want to protect yourself from all the dust and debris that will fall down by wearing a dust mask.