Can Air Conditioning Really Make You Sick?
We place a large amount of trust in our air conditioning. It is something that keeps us comfortable when the weather is too hot or too cold. But what if there was something wrong and air conditioning could make us sick?
Air conditioning is all around us: at home, at work, in the car, etc. The list goes on. Normally there is nothing to worry about. A well maintained heating or cooling system is perfectly good for your health and can even provide health benefits with fresh, filtered air.
However, if that unit has not been maintained, then you are breathing dirty, low quality air. It is a recycled mess that could cause you and your family to feel sick.
This could lead to allergy flare ups, breathing problems, skin irritation and more. Many of these issues fall under the umbrella of air conditioning sickness. If you are unfamiliar with the term, this is all you need to know about how an air conditioner can make you sick, the symptoms, and how to avoid it.
The Signs of Air Conditioning Sickness
Perhaps you are already feeling a little unwell and just have not been able to put your finger on the cause. Maybe it is a seasonal bug or something you caught from the kids. Alternatively, it could be air conditioning sickness.
Common air conditioning sickness symptoms basically mimic the traditional flu, or perhaps even hayfever. For example, you could experience symptoms like a sore throat from air conditioning, plus:
- fevers and chills
- watery eyes or dry eyes
These minor symptoms are all fairly harmless, albeit annoying. But they do pass quickly once you are no longer breathing in low quality air conditioning air. Prolonged exposure to a dirty system is a different matter. And if you are allergic to air conditioning then you must address the risk of more serious side effects.
Long Term Health Problems
Although it is highly unlikely that long term health problems would be caused by poor quality heating and cooling, there is always a risk. Severe allergic reactions are possible, as are conditions such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis or allergic rhinitis, plus asthma episodes.
Pneumonitis is a potential health hazard if not addressed early on. It is an allergic reaction triggered by mould or bacteria irritating air sacs within the lungs. Symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle/joint pain or headaches can appear within a few hours.
Typically the symptoms will disappear with no long term exposure. However, continued breathing of harmful air can lead to permanent scarring and lung damage. Chronic pneumonitis is a risk for about 5 per cent of those exposed long term. Permanent side effects include a dry cough, tiredness, loss of appetite and chest tightness.
Asthma sufferers would also understand the risks posed by poor quality air and exposure to triggers like dust, mould spores and dust mites. An asthma attack can quickly evolve into a serious trip to the hospital under the wrong circumstances.
That is why a well-maintained air conditioner can actually help remove airborne allergens and triggers. It is especially beneficial for pet owners and anyone with a specific focus on maintaining a healthy home.
How to Tell if Air Conditioning is Making You Sick
If your home, workplace or favourite cafe is causing you to feel sick, symptoms typically develop within 4-6 hours of exposure to the trigger. That means you could easily be somewhere else by the time you feel unwell. Some people may feel unwell more quickly, though.
This could make it difficult to accurately find the problematic air conditioner. Therefore, keep track of any flare ups. Look at things like days you cough and sneeze more or you might suffer from unexplained skin irritation. The cause could be the air vent at work or the split system in your lounge. Also take into consideration any health changes linked to a new job, house move or even a new relationship; anything that led to spending more time in a new location.
If you can spot patterns in the days where air conditioning sickness symptoms develop, then you will also get to focus on uncovering a solution.
How to Avoid Getting Sick From Your Air Conditioning
The good news is there are no difficult solutions here. The key to not getting sick due to air conditioning is regularly and thoroughly cleaning the unit. Deep cleaning ensures no mould growth, while clean filters capture much of the circulating bacteria, dust particles and allergens in the home.
Air conditioner filters should be cleaned at least every 3 months, especially around the change of seasons. Ducted heating and cooling registers and return vents should also be cleaned.
Filters can be removed and rinsed off with cold water, and placed back in a unit once dry. A vacuum cleaner also helps to remove any other stubborn particles, fur or dust.
Another important task is looking out for mould, especially if you’re in a humid environment. Mould can easily be cleaned with a store-bought cleaner, or even white vinegar, and plenty of elbow grease. Be sure to wear gloves for additional protection.
Also, keep any outdoor units clean and make sure there is no standing water outside that could promote bacterial growth or insect reproduction.
Finally, a professional duct cleaning service is another great step to make sure there are no hidden dangers within your home.
What Temperature Should I Set My Air Conditioner in Summer?
With the return of short sleeves and office thermostat debates, summer has certainly made its grand return. Did you know that heating and cooling in the home accounts for a whopping 20 to 50 per cent of your energy bill though?
Setting your air conditioner to the optimal temperature can make a big difference in its running costs over the summer months. We’re here to tell you exactly what the ideal air conditioner temperature is and what you can do to reach maximum energy efficiency without breaking a sweat.
What’s the Best AC Temperature for Summer?
As a general rule, the best temperature for your air conditioner in summer is 25-27°C. There are some caveats, however, namely that this assumes you live in a moderate climate. We’re sure many of you would be hesitant to say Australian summers are “moderate”, so we’re going to break down the best temperature for air conditioning by different regions.
The real ideal temperature requires you to balance the climate of where you live and your comfort. Warmer climates such as North Queensland will typically need to set their air conditioning unit to 21-23°C to reach a comfortable temperature and maintain efficiency. Meanwhile, cooler regions such as Tasmania can set their system to 28°C to keep cool.
As outdoor temperatures increase, your air conditioner will need to work harder to offset this and keep a comfortable indoor temperature.
How Temperature Setting Affects Running Costs
The lower you set the temperature on your air conditioner in summer, the harder it has to work, and the more energy it will consume. More energy equals higher energy bills. For every degree you decrease your air conditioner’s temperature, you add around 10 per cent to its energy use. This might not sound like much, but it adds up on your energy bill in the end.
You can use the Ergon Air Conditioning Calculator to calculate your system’s approximate running costs based on the cooling capacity, temperature setting, and how much it is used. For example, a 6.0kW air conditioner set to 21°C that runs for six hours a day over 12 weeks will cost you $191.75. Setting it to 25°C, however, could save you $59.16!
Thankfully, there are extra things you can do to reduce your power bill and reach optimal performance with your air conditioning system.
How to Save Money on Your Air Conditioning Bill
While you can’t entirely avoid a rise in your energy bills when you’re using air conditioning, you can minimise how much it increases. We’ve got 6 easy ways you can make sure your air conditioning is energy efficient, beyond just the temperature settings.
Upgrade Your Insulation
Between 25 and 35 per cent of the heat gained in your home during summer is through the ceiling. A further 15 to 25 per cent comes through the walls and 25 to 35 per cent through your windows!
The warmer it is inside your home, the harder your air con needs to work to cool it back down. Upgrading or renewing your home’s insulation can go a long way in keeping this heat out in the first place.
Fitting your roof space with batts or loose-fill foam can help to prevent unwanted heat from entering your home. Simply keeping your curtains shut when the sun is out can also help to keep the heat out. Bonus points if they’re insulated curtains!
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
If you’re looking at installing a new air conditioner, it’s important you get the right size to ensure maximum energy efficiency. A unit that’s too big will use more energy than would be necessary to cool your home to the set temperature. Meanwhile, a unit that’s too small will work harder than a unit that’s the right size, resulting in parts wearing down sooner than they should.
As a general rule, here are the recommended air conditioner capacity based on room size:
This is for rooms with standard sized ceilings. If your ceilings are especially tall, then you will need a bigger capacity to have the same cooling effect.
Regularly Clean the Filters
Cleaning your air conditioner filters two to four times a year is one of the easiest ways to keep electricity costs down. These filters are there to prevent air pollution from entering your home, but over time will accumulate and form a buildup.
This buildup will worsen your home’s air quality as the filters are unable to do their job. It will also cause your air conditioner to work harder as it has to compete with the buildup, causing higher electricity bills.
Use Your Ceiling Fans
You can turn the cooling temperature up and reduce energy consumption by using your ceiling fans in combination with your air conditioner. In summer mode, a ceiling fan will push cool air down and drag any warm air up and away from you. While not changing the temperature of the room, ceiling fans can help to make a room feel cooler.
This means you can adjust the temperature setting up a little while using less energy.
Graduate to a Smart Thermostat
A smart thermostat can help to reach optimal efficiency with your cooling efforts. Most of us turn the air con on full as soon as we get home from work to get our home to the right temperature. This can blast through a lot of energy.
With a smart thermostat, you can turn your air conditioner on to a moderately cool temperature from your phone while still at work so when you get home it’s already nice and cool, without the big energy surge.
You can set your air con to turn on when the thermostat reaches a certain temperature, or even set it to a timer. This kind of automation takes the thinking out of your home’s cooling and means you can cool it down more efficiently.
Use the Different Operating Modes
Most of us only use the heat and cool mode on our air conditioner, but modern units come with more features than just that. Two modes, in particular, can help to save energy when cooling your home – energy-saving mode and sleep mode.
The energy-saving mode does exactly as the name would suggest, increases the units energy efficiency. It won’t cool quite as effectively as it would in regular cooling mode, but if you turn the unit on early enough in the day this shouldn’t matter.
On those nights where it’s just too hot to turn the air con off, use the sleep mode. This mode will slowly increase the temperature to compensate for the decreasing temperature outside. This means the unit will use less energy as the night goes on.
Getting your air conditioner temperature right along with these extra tips is a surefire way to reduce the cost of cooling your home this summer. If you’re looking to install a new air conditioner, need your current system repaired, or are just after an annual service, Metropolitan Air Conditioning has air con experts available today for a same day service. Call us today and we can have someone at your door within the hour*