June 20, 2022
Environmental Health in Austin, TX

Air conditioning can relieve the discomfort of living in humid climates, but is air conditioning a significant source of air pollution? How does it affect the environment? This blog post addresses these questions and explains how air conditioning causes air pollution.

Air conditioning brings many benefits to our lives, including comfort, cognitive ability, and lowered stress levels. It also has some not-so-insignificant adverse effects. It’s been blamed for worldwide increases in ozone depletion and other air pollutants.

Air conditioning contributes to air pollution through the electricity that powers it and the refrigerants that cool it. This latter effect, coupled with some air-conditioning equipment that is not quite as efficient as others, is the source of much concern.

1. Energy Consumption

Air conditioning is a huge consumer of electricity. For example, in the United States, around 15% of all residential electricity is used for air conditioning. If that electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels, whether coal, natural gas, or any other fossil fuel, then it will result in some form of air pollution.

Some sources of electricity, like solar panels and wind turbines, produce no air pollution. Every other source of electricity produces some level of air pollution, though. The height of this pollution varies depending on the specific technology used to generate the electricity.

Another problem with using fossil fuels for power is that it tends to produce more pollution when electricity demand is highest. This is called the duck curve, and it’s a problem for grid operators, who need to match supply with demand.

2. CFCs/HFCs

Refrigerants are chemicals used in air conditioning equipment to replace the heat removed from a building. They may be referred to as chlorofluorocarbons or hydrofluorocarbons. Both of them can affect air pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency has made it illegal to manufacture, import, or use CFCs in almost all cases due to their effect on the atmosphere.

Older systems that use CFCs threaten the ozone layer, while HFCs are less dangerous but still contribute to climate change. If a leak in an air conditioning system is not detected and fixed immediately, it can result in the escape of these chemicals into the surrounding environment.

Chlorofluorocarbons tend to rise to the stratosphere, broken down by ultraviolet rays releasing chlorine atoms. These can destroy the ozone molecules. The chlorine can react with the oxygen molecules and cause ground-level ozone, a dangerous form of air pollution. Because CFCs are so long-lasting, they act as a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming.

3. Unclean Ducts and Filters

The ducts and filters on a typical air conditioning system can accumulate dust, dust mites, mold, spores, and other particulate matter. If these get pushed into the room, they are in or released into the atmosphere when cleaned. This can lead to indoor air pollution. Some in-room air pollutants include pet dander, mold spores, and dust mite allergens. It’s believed that exposure to these sorts of pollutants can cause or aggravate asthma.

4. Materials Used

The materials used in air conditioning systems can also be a problem. Manufacturers nowadays opt for plastic since it is cheaper and easier to manufacture in large quantities. This can lead to severe problems if the plastic components are not properly disposed of. This typically happens when recycled, and the recycler fails to ensure that all of them are correctly disposed of.

The production of plastic is terrible as it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during the production process. Carbon dioxide produces the greenhouse effect and is a primary driver of climate change. If a plastic component is not properly disposed of, it can build up and destroy the ecosystem in nearby areas.

Maintaining and servicing your system is extremely important. Although there are no hard and fast rules on how regularly you should maintain your system, it’s best to do it as often as possible. This will reduce the chances of any problems with the equipment and any potential health problems that may arise from leaks. At Totally Cool Heating & Air, we help install and maintain air conditioning systems. We are located in Austin, TX.

In conclusion, air conditioning produces some form of air pollution. Some of it is more significant than others, but the pollutants produced are relatively low in many systems. The most significant problem with air conditioning systems is the potential for leaks, which release refrigerants into the atmosphere. We offer cooling, heating, and air quality services. Contact Totally Cool Heating & Air today for more information.

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