Is Air Conditioning Making You Sick?

Is Air Conditioning Making You Sick?

The warming planet makes more people rely on air conditioning to keep cool, especially on hot days. Summer in the United States this year was unbearably hot. At one point, Death Valley in California recorded 130-degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius) – the second hottest temperature verified on Earth. It was beaten by 131 degrees Fahrenheit (55 degrees Celsius) recorded in Tunisia in 1931.

As a result, Americans had to rush out to buy air-conditioning to survive the sweltering summer. It led to a shortage of air-conditioning in many states.

About 90 percent of the households across the entire country have an AC unit at home.

However, some are questioning its safety. AC is already known to contribute to climate change by emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Is it also bad for our health?

The Physical Impact of Air Conditioning

Some people swear that, after spending time inside an air-conditioned room, they start to feel ill. The goal of an AC is to lower the temperature and protect people from extreme heat. However, it may be causing health issues, too.

In one previous study, researchers found that workers in air-conditioned office buildings had experienced far more symptoms of ill health than those who worked in buildings with natural ventilation. The symptoms reported included breathing difficulties, irritation of the mucous membrane, skin irritation, headache, and fatigue.

The name of the condition is sick building syndrome (SBS). It is used to describe a phenomenon in which people spend time in an enclosed space. It is difficult to diagnose because it covers a wide range of symptoms. Doctors can know for sure that it is SBS if the symptoms disappear after the patient left their place of work and reappear the next day when they report to work.

There is usually one culprit behind SBS: poor indoor air quality. The AC is responsible for it.

According to experts, SBS might occur because the AC collects germs and allergens, including dust mites. Stagnant water can also create the perfect breeding ground for viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Occupants of air-conditioned rooms might be breathing in unhealthy air.

That is why proper maintenance of the device is necessary. An AC tuneup must be done regularly so that it is working as expected and not releasing contaminated air into a room. Building owners should also regularly replace the filters to prevent the risk of spreading disease-causing viruses and bacteria throughout the space.

Is Your Air Conditioner Making You Sick? - AND Services

The Psychological Impact of Air Conditioning

There is also evidence that being in an air-conditioned room can also influence productivity. People function at their best when they are in a room where the temperature is comfortable. Extreme temperature, whether cold or hot, will disrupt focus.

Women, especially, performed better when the ambient temperature is warm and cozy.

The Benefits of Air Conditioning

It is not bad, especially when used during extremely hot days. Very high temperatures can put people at risk of heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and cardiovascular disease.

In an older study, researchers proved that the use of AC lowered the risk of hospitalization and death from cardiovascular disease among people above the age of 65.

Along with seniors, children, pets, and people who have existing health conditions are vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat. It is also dangerous for people who take certain medications such as diuretics, beta blockers, and cold medicine.

In addition, AC saves people from outdoor air pollution, but only if the indoor air is safe and clean. By turning on the AC, people need to close the window to prevent cold air from the room. This way, people avoid being exposed to outdoor pollutants that can trigger allergies and irritate the respiratory system.

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) should stay inside an air-conditioned room when the air outdoors contains high levels of pollutants. Pollution will trigger symptoms of COPD.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that exposure to air pollution is a major threat to health. It causes millions of premature deaths worldwide every year. It also increases mortality to heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections

The use of air conditioning is neither bad nor good. It can be useful and safe for days when the weather is too hot, and there is a risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. It can also save people from exposure to polluted outdoor air. However, when used frequently and if not properly maintained, air conditioning can also cause health conditions.

How AI Improves HVAC Performance & Indoor Air Quality

How AI Improves HVAC Performance & Indoor Air Quality

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is proving to have promising application in construction industry. Seeing how HVAC systems contribute to the largest share of energy consumption in commercial and residential buildings, energy efficiency measures that target HVAC can help achieve major savings. AI can help improve both energy efficiency as well as indoor air quality by optimizing airflow, humidity and temperature while maintaining the lowest possible energy consumption.

However, it is advised that energy saving HVAC upgrades should not hinder with the indoor environmental quality as it can cause discomfort and health issues in some cases too. This can also have a negative impact on productivity at work places and business settings.

Let’s take a look at how AI can improve HVAC efficiency with the following cases:

HVAC control

Controlling an HVAC system effectively becomes quite a challenging task when the building conditions are constantly changing. Consider the following scenarios:

  • With changing outdoor temperature, the heating or cooling required to maintain a suitable indoor temperature is affected.
  • HVAC control and optimization is also affected by indoor activities. For example, a commercial kitchen would require more ventilation than an work place of the same size.
  • The ventilation requirements and temperature control systems are also affected by people entering and leaving the buildings.

All the above situations cannot be efficiently managed with manual controls for optimal performance. This is where AI makes the job easy by allowing smart control systems that process real-time data and adjust the HVAC systems accordingly. This helps HVAC systems to operate at peak optimal performance even with variable building conditions.

Smart Controls for Ventilation Systems

For optimizing ventilation systems, considering the outdoor airflow for determining the optimal variables is a must. Air Handlers consume less energy than space heaters and air conditioners. However, the outdoor airflow determines the heating and cooling needs of a building. For example, if the outdoor airflow is increased during winter, more heat is needed to maintain the suitable indoor temperature. The same can be applied for air conditioners during summer when ventilation system increases outdoor airflow.

Many buildings have ventilation systems operating at full airflow. This leads to a major waste of energy. Overventilation leads to energy wastage while underventilation leads to detrimental effects on indoor air quality. Ventilation system coupled with AI can determine the optimal airflow for maintaining a suitable environment of the building. AI can also keep a track of number of occupants and also the air pollutants concentration. It is highly recommended that the ventilation systems should never reduce the airflow below the required minimum value as suggested by the local building codes.

Optimizing Space Heating and Air Conditioning

According to a study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), peak human productivity is reached when the indoor temperature is around 22 degree Celsius. The study also observed that as the temperature increases or decreases, it caused discomfort and lowered the productivity. Extreme temperatures are highly unlikely even with deficient HVAC systems. However, the indoor air quality degrades gradually as the temperature diverges from the ideal range. Improved and efficient performance is possible with AI enabled smart controls for the HVAC system.

Building furnaces, boilers, chillers and other HVAC equipment are now available with in-built AI. Thus, major energy savings can be expected just by upgrading the old equipment. The use of smart controls leads to efficient working of the entire HVAC system at all times.

AI Synergy with Energy Efficiency Measures

Based on the previous points, it is evident by now that energy efficiency measures are more effective when coupled with artificial intelligence. Two examples of HVAC upgrades that work best with AI are Airside Economizers and Energy Recovery Ventilations.

Airside economizers can help save energy in some climate conditions. When outside air is within suitable temperature and humidity range, the economizers increase ventilation rates and reduce the need for air conditioning. Since ventilation fans need less energy than air conditioners, electricity can be saved. Smart controls can further maximize these savings.

In energy recovery ventilation, when the outdoor airflow is optimized, the energy wastage for heating or cooling is avoided. ERV can then exchange heat between supply air and exhaust air, ultimately reducing the workload on HVAC even further, ERV works for both summer and winter by maintaining suitable temperature with indoor air precooling or indoor air preheating.