The air filter in your air conditioning system cleans the air that the system blows into your home. If replaced or cleaned regularly, your system will run more efficiently, your family, and pets will breathe cleaner air. If not maintained properly, your system may cool your home tolerably, but in actuality may be contaminating the air.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculated that we spend as much as 90 percent of our time indoors. However, because today’s homes have been well insulated and wrapped air tight in an effort to lower energy use, they can also keep airborne problems inside to the point where a home can be polluted two to five times higher than the outdoors. The good news is the quality of the air you and your family breath can be improved by simply changing the air-conditioners filter on a regular basis and maintaining the heating and air-conditioning system (including ducts).

8 Ways a Dirty Air-Conditioner Affects Your Family’s Health

8 Ways a Dirty Air-Conditioner Affects Your Family’s Health

A dirty A/C filter can cause the air ducts in the home to become dirty and clogged, providing the ideal environment for mold and spores to develop within the ductwork. Millions of unwanted airborne particles may be breathed inside your home. Air filters, ducts and diffuser vents can become an overhead trap for dust, tobacco smoke, and pollen, cooking odors and pet hair and dander.

Improperly maintained air-conditioner filters and ducts can result in a build-up of allergens such as fungi, pollen and bacteria in the air triggering:

  • Fatigue
  • Coughing & sore throat
  • Congestion and wheezing
  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Asthma attacks
  • Flu-like illnesses

Dirty air filters can hinder the performance of a dehumidifier.

Major health hazards can result in a home of office when decomposing animals and nasty bacteria become hidden in poorly-maintained ducts of split-system air conditioning units. A/C service contractors have reported removing insect colonies, as well as rotting snakes and toads caught in the system. Decomposing tissue can result in bacteria being blown into the home and inhaled by the homeowner, and can result in a variety of infections and health issues. Increased temperature and moisture created by HVAC units assists the growth of natural organisms and accelerates the natural decomposition of animal and plant matter.

Intrusive animals gaining access to the roof and attic can cause more damage than disturbing insulation and chewing on cable. Raccoons, possum, and rodents will use ductwork as their “highway” through the roof, leaving feces in their trail.

Large amounts of dust and dirt accumulating over time in a home’s ductwork can cause respiratory distress. Traditionally, equipment manufacturers warn homeowners that they need to clean the filters in their air systems. However, they often fail to alert the homeowner that contaminants can accumulate at numerous other points throughout the system. Mold, mildew and fungi can accrue deep inside the units. This can lead to loss of airflow through the system, motors being overworked, and higher operating costs to get effective air comfort.

The Legionella bacteria optimally grow in temperatures between 68 to 122° F, making the warm, moist environment inside A/C units an ideal breeding ground. This is the bacterium that causes the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease. This disease is a type of pneumonia with symptoms such as headache, body aches, nausea, chest pains, and high fever often above 104°. If not treated promptly, Legionnaires’ disease can affect bodily systems causing permanent physical and/or mental damage. If the body’s fever is not reduced and antibodies don’t defeat it, death can occur

Air conditioners that have not been properly maintained can cause respiratory tract infections. These may include the common cold, sore throat, and tonsillitis. Moreover, dirty air filters fail to remove airborne bacteria, instead permitting it to recirculate, spreading these infections to others in the household or office. Studies have shown that a large percentage of work absenteeism due to colds, flu and other respiratory infections can be attributed to the circulation of airborne bacteria and fungi in the A/C systems.

While here in the South air conditioners and heat pumps make the summer heat tolerable, some health concerns exist. Properly maintaining your home’s air conditioner can reduce these risks greatly. Talk to a HVAC professional for details on how to maintain your A/C system. Given how simple it is to have a unit cleaned, it’s a small price to pay to guard against health problems. The quality and effectiveness of your air conditioner filters and the health of your family are indelibly connected.