Is Air Conditioning Bad For Us? Here Is What The Experts Say
When it’s hot out, there’s only one thing we want to do with our lives. We want to sit inside with the AC cranked up all the way. We want to turn our houses into an ice box. We want to see if we can make frost grow on our windows because it’s so cold inside. We want to build an igloo out of ice from our fridge, then see if we can keep that igloo from melting using nothing but our good old fashioned AC. We want absolutely nothing to do with the summer outside. We want everything to do with the winter wonderland that we’ve been creating inside. And yes, that includes going ice skating on our bathtub.
But it turns out that there might be some drawbacks to blasting your AC all the way. Here’s how the experts weigh in when it comes to turning your house into an ice palace.
Full Of Hot Air
There’s a good chance that you’re probably reading this article in the comfort of your air conditioning at home.
That’s because most Americans spend their days sitting in the AC. In fact, 90% of Americans have an air condition at home.
It would also be weirder for an office building to not have an air conditioner than to have one. Plus, if you walk into any Starbucks, you’re basically walking into a refrigerator that also sells coffee.
Needed Or Not?
But it turns out that Americans might have more air conditioners in our lives than we even need.
There are a lot of countries that get hotter than it does in the U.S., and yet, the people who live there get along fine without relying on air conditioning as much as we do.
For example, Mexico, Brazil and India all get way hotter than the U.S., and yet, they don’t crank down the thermostat when it dips above 72.
The Common Cold
There’s also been a debate as to whether or not it’s healthy to sit in air conditioner all day.
It’s not natural to feel temperatures of 68 degrees all day when it’s August, but is it bad for us, too?
Some people think that air conditioning is responsible for them getting summertime colds. Going in and out of cold air and hot air all day can’t be good for you, right? Well, the experts weighed in on it.
It turns out, air conditioning isn’t bad for you, but there’s a condition to that.
The air conditioning has to be monitored closely and wisely in order for it to not hurt your health, though.
According to a study in the International Journal of Epidemiology, office workers who worked in air conditioned buildings actually were more likely to report symptoms of not feeling well than people who worked in offices that had a natural ventilation system in them.
Turn Down For What
If you feel like your air conditioner is making you sick, it’s not all in your head.
“A large body of research has found that occupants of offices with air conditioning tend to report more sick building syndrome (SBS) symptoms than occupants of naturally ventilated offices,” said William Fisk, leader of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Indoor Environment Group.
“SBS symptoms are self-reported symptoms mostly of eye, nose or throat irritation and respiratory symptoms such as cough.”
There’s a reason for these symptoms, and it turns out it’s the fault of the air conditioner unit rather than the temperature.
These symptoms “possibly due to the moisture from AC units, which expose people to additional toxins, allergens or irritants,” according to Fisk.
The moisture which is needed to make the air conditioning system work can actually open the door for tiny pollutants entering the system. They are definitely not invited to the party, yet they crash it.
Not surprisingly, experts say that you have to make sure you properly take care of air conditioning systems.
“AC systems are susceptible to collect infectious organisms and allergens, such as dust mites,” said Dr. Wassim Labaki, a professor of internal medicine and pulmonologist at Michigan Medicine.
“Therefore, the proper maintenance of these systems, including regular filter change, is essential to prevent circulation of unhealthy air.” Otherwise, they’re going to get gross and you’re going to get sick.
How Are You Feeling?
But it’s not just gross germs in air conditioning units that can do damage to your body.
Air conditioning units can also impact your performance at work, especially if you’re a woman. “A considerable body of research indicates that human performance in office-like work is maximized when temperatures are maintained at about 71 [degrees Fahrenheit] plus or minus a degree or two,” Fisk said.
“AC can help us maintain such temperatures, but other technologies can also help.”
Good And Bad
But even though there are drawbacks to air conditioners, there are also advantages to it, too, besides the fact that it keeps you cool.
Yale researchers found that air conditioners can actually lower the risk of hospitalization and deaths related to cardiovascular issues.
And here we thought that we only used AC because we didn’t like getting sweaty. It turns out that it’s been low key good for our heart this entire time. Who knew?
Hot And Cold
On top of that, it keeps your body protected from good old fashioned heat-related illnesses.
“AC can be expected to reduce the risk of heat stroke and heat-related death during heat waves, which are becoming more common with climate change,” Fisk said.
It should be obvious that the AC keeps us safe from getting heat stroke, but sometimes you just need an expert to remind you of what you already knew. If you’re too hot, go in the cold.
Inside And Outside
Plus, air conditioner can protect you from all the dangers waiting for you in the outside world.
“AC also enables windows to be maintained closed and AC systems usually contain filters that remove particles from the circulated air. With AC and closed windows, indoor concentrations of outdoor air pollutants such as particles, ozone and allergens are decreased,” says Fisk.
So if you have allergies, the air conditioner can help keep you from getting exposed to possible allergens.
But the dangers of air conditioning go far beyond your health. You might get into a fight with your significant other over the thermostat.
“There can be significant differences in comfort, even among family members and spouses,”said Dr. Mark Aronica, an allergist-immunologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “And then whatever other factors a person may be concerned about come next, like energy efficiency, cost and so on.”
Honestly that might put your health at risk more than the germs.
If you’re going to run the air conditioner, you should make sure that you keep it nice and clean.
“For window units, make sure to do proper cleaning and maintenance, and for central AC, conduct proper maintenance and make sure the air filters are replaced when recommended by the manufacturer,” Dr. Aronica suggests.
Remember the thing we said earlier about germs that could make you sick? You’re going to want to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.
There are also ways to cool down your house or office without turning on the AC, if you want to be more natural.
Nihar Shah, an energy and environmental policy research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, says that air conditioning should be “a last resort instead of the first resort.”
Keeping the air off unless you absolutely have to turn it on conserves energy, which is a good thing. American AC’s are responsible for 10% of the world’s electricity consumption.
The Great Debate
So if you’re wondering if cranking the AC is bad for you, you finally have your answer. Yes and no.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if you want to turn on the AC, but we kind of have to side with Shah on this one. Americans use a lot of AC and keeping it off prevents waisting electricity.
Of course, if you want to keep it cool when things get to hot, you can always hop in the pool.