Air conditioning units are an invaluable way of controlling temperatures in homes and workplaces alike. They can help to maintain a temperature that is comfortable, safe and healthy. As long as the air conditioning unit is properly maintained, these advantages are essentially risk-free. If certain precautions are neglected, on the other hand, it is possible that your air conditioning unit could become a hazard. When properly maintained and used, air conditioning systems remain entirely safe in the vast majority of cases.
What are the Dangers?
Poor maintenance of air conditioning units can lead to health hazards being carried by the circulating air. As air conditioning units are a highly effective way to circulate air throughout a given space, this unfortunately can mean that any such hazards are effectively spread throughout an entire workplace, room or home.
Pollutants and contaminants in air conditioning systems can cause, contribute to, or exacerbate a number of different problems. These include asthma, allergies and sinusitis. These problems are often down to poor cleaning of the air conditioning system, leading to dust, dirt, and other small allergenic particles being carried around a space by circulating air from the air conditioning system.
When bacteria, viruses or fungi such as moulds get into an air conditioning system, the hazards can become more severe. A wide variety of illnesses can be caused or spread by lax maintenance of an air conditioning system which leads to contaminants and micro-organisms being circulated with supposedly fresh air. Probably the best-known disease that can be spread by problems with air conditioning is Legionnaire’s disease. Legionnaire’s disease is caused by the legionella bacteria, which lives in water. Legionella is quite common but is usually found in such small numbers as to be harmless. When it makes its way into an air conditioning system and is left unattended, however, it can multiply. Contaminated droplets of water can then be distributed by the air conditioning system, resulting in the spread of Legionnaire’s disease throughout a building. The disease causes flu-like systems, and will prove fatal for otherwise healthy people in 10-15% of cases.
Avoiding These Problems
The best way to avoid these dangers is simply to ensure that your air conditioning system is well-maintained, regularly checked, and kept clean.
Regular cleaning, especially around intakes and outlets, is all it takes to avoid problems relating to allergies or asthma. Intakes and outlets are not only the easiest places to reach and to clean, but also the places where dust and other allergens tend to accumulate most. A more thorough, professional clean may also be necessary now and again, but for the most part simply keeping an eye on dust build-up will go a long way to avert the hazards.
Regular maintenance, checking and cleaning is also the best way to avoid spreading illnesses such as Legionnaire’s disease. This will ensure that contaminants and disease-causing agents such as mould and micro-organisms do not get the chance to build up to dangerous levels before being cleaned out. It is recommended that air conditioning systems be professionally checked, cleaned and serviced at least once a year. Generally, best practice is to have cooling systems serviced in early spring and heating systems looked at near the start of autumn. This means that all systems are checked and serviced before the seasons when they will enter heavy use, ensuring that they are in good condition beforehand. This is particularly important because they may have just seen a period of inactivity or low usage, which can provide an opportunity for contaminants to build up and bacteria to multiply.
There are also steps you can take to prevent bacteria such as legionella from having the chance to build up in the first place. This mostly involves not letting your air conditioning system sit entirely idle. Water should be kept flowing rather than allowed to sit stagnant, because stagnant water gives disease-causing agents an opportunity to multiply. It is also recommended that water is kept at a temperature in which legionella and similar organisms do not thrive well. Specifically, this means that water should either be heated above 60 degrees centigrade (140 Fahrenheit), or cooled to a temperature of less than 20 degrees centigrade (68 degrees Fahrenheit).