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Is Your Air Conditioner Making You Sick?

Cold air doesn’t make you sick. You must be exposed to germs, bacteria and viruses to get sick.

An air conditioner, by itself, can’t make you sick. Yet, studies have linked air conditioning to increased sickness.

For example, one study found that people in air-conditioned offices were more likely to report having respiratory problems than people who work in an office without AC. Those in the air-conditioned buildings also had more sick days.

So what gives? The correlation likely exists because...

Air conditioners expose you to more germs

All homes have germs. Air conditioners are simply recirculating those germs throughout your home. All day. Every time they turn on.

And the more you’re exposed to sickness-causing germs, the more likely you’ll get sick.

Still confused? Let’s look at a hypothetical example...

A tale of 2 homes

Say there are 2 homes, Home A and Home B. Home A has an air conditioner and Home B does not, but in every other way the 2 homes are identical. They both have some visible moisture problems in the bathroom. (Something several studies link to an increased risk of respiratory symptoms.)

The people in Home A are more likely to get sick than those in Home B. Why?

The air conditioner in Home A is running every hour or so. When the AC runs, it picks up the bacteria and mold spores from the bathroom and blows it throughout the home.

The circulation of air exposes the people inside Home A to germs that can make them sick. Without an AC, those in Home B are less likely to come in contact with the mold and bacteria.

Starting to make sense? Good.

Now there’s another factor of air conditioners that can make this problem even worse...

An unmaintained AC breeds more germs

Mold spores and other bacteria breed when they have both moisture and food (dust, dirt). And your AC can easily contain both. Especially in these areas…

Evaporator coils

To cool your home, air is blown over the cold evaporator coils in your AC. As the air passes over the coils, the moisture in the air condenses and collects on the coils. And the moisture collects bacteria, dirt and dust from the air.

This creates a perfect environment for mold, mildew and bacteria to grow and then be blown back into your home’s air.

Drip pan and condensate drain

The moisture that collects on the evaporator coils is collected in the drip pan before being drained out of your home by the condensate drain. (This is usually a small pipe that goes outside your house.)

This drain line can leak or become clogged, causing the water to back up into your attic. Again, this creates a perfect breeding ground for sickness-causing germs like mold and mildew.

So should you just ditch your AC completely to avoid these problems? You could. But that’s not realistic (especially in Phoenix). Use these tips instead...

How to prevent the spread of germs in your home

To keep your air conditioning system from getting your family sick, make sure you:

  • Clean up any water damage immediately to prevent the growth of mold and mildew in your home
  • Have a professional remove any signs of mold and mildew that already exist
  • Turn on your bathroom fans when showering (this helps remove humidity and reduces the chance of mold/mildew from shower condensation)
  • Get an AC tune-up every year (part of this service is cleaning the evaporator coils and making sure there’s no condensate drain line clog or leak)
  • Consider an air cleaner

Have any other questions about your air condition or the air quality of your home? Contact us today.

George Brazil has been keeping Phoenix-area homes safe, comfortable and energy-efficient since 1955.