To understand why many of today’s health problems can be caused by the home you live in, you needto look back a few years to see what caused this to happen. You see, during the energy crisis of the early 1970s, highly insulated “tight” homes became popular because of their potential to reduce energy costs. Within a few years, however, complaints started to arise, due to health, and excessive moisture issues caused by indoor pollution, and associated moisture problems within these homes.
In the late 1980s and early 90s, indoor air quality became a nationally recognized issue. Even today, newer and more energy-efficient homes seemed predisposed to the problem. In addition, they retain more humidity and airborne pollutants, which causes longer life-spans, and more productive cycles of microbial activity within the home, such as mold, germs, bacteria and viruses. This greater activity and concentration of these airborne contaminants, equates to more allergic reactions, and sickness within families, for longer periods of time.
MOLD: A SURVIVOR
Why is mold so difficult to control? Mold is at the bottom of the food chain. It thrives on very little, grows rapidly, and produces spores, volatile organic com-pounds, and other toxins. One organism can multiply to trillions in less than three weeks. When given the right conditions, mold can occur anywhere; in homes, schools, workplaces, entertainment centers, vehicles, etc. The interior of your ductwork and air conditioning equipment, provides an ideal environment for mold growth — especially in the air conditioners inside drain-pan where it is dark, damp, and filled with nutrients. The result can be like blowing air over a swamp or through a sewer and then into your home, vehicle, and workplace.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 60% of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) problems and allergies may be mold-related. Some IAQ diagnosticians and practitioners today say the figure may be as high as 80%. The increased usage of air conditioning systems almost directly parallels the increase of allergies and IAQ problems.
As mold and bacteria grow on coils and in drain pans, they are disseminated through the ducts to occupied spaces. Some mold products (toxins) produce serious and sometimes life-threatening reactions, including allergy, asthma, hypersensitivity, pneumonitis, and in some extreme cases even bleeding lung disease. Additionally, mold creates a troublesome maintenance problem. Its activity results in dirty coils, a loss of air-flow, loss of heat exchange efficiency, dirty and sometimes plugged drain pans, and excessive energy use.
USING UVC TECHNOLOGY
Our company has found that the most successful way to handle system mold is through Ultraviolet (U.V.) germicidal lights. These U.V. systems are a recent breakthrough in protecting the health of a home. Ultraviolet light in the “C" band (UVC) has been used for more than 65 years to kill microorganisms in hospitals, barber shops, laboratories, pharmaceutical plants, and at the nation's Center for Disease Control. Residential ultraviolet units have been independently tested and proved to be effective in the constantly moving air environments of heating and cooling systems, killing mold and bacteria quickly and effectively. The UVC energy attacks the organism’s DNA and either destroys it immediately or prevents it from reproducing. For most people, the original motivation for installing the lights is to abate IAQ complaints and/or allergies. However, they are also pleased to learn that many hidden odors are also eliminated with U.V. technology.
TYPES OF CENTRAL AIR CONDITIONERS
A central air conditioner is either a split-system unit or a packaged unit. In a split-system central air conditioner, an outdoor metal cabinet contains the condenser and compressor, and an indoor cabinet contains the evaporator. In many split-system air conditioners, this indoor cabinet also contains a furnace or the indoor part of a heat pump. The air conditioner's evaporator coil is installed in the cabinet or main supply duct of this furnace or heat pump. If your home already has a furnace but no air conditioner, a split-system is the most economical central air conditioner to install.
In a packaged central air conditioner, the evaporator, condenser, and compressor are all located in one cabinet, which usually is placed on a roof or on a concrete slab next to the house's foundation. This type of air conditioner also is used in small commercial buildings. Air supply and return ducts come from indoors through the home's exterior wall or roof to connect with the packaged air conditioner, which is usually located outdoors. Packaged air conditioners often include electric heating coils or a natural gas furnace. This combination of air conditioner and central heater eliminates the need for a separate furnace indoors.
CHOOSING OR UPGRADING YOUR CENTRAL AIR CONDITIONER
Central air conditioners are more efficient than room air conditioners. In addition, they are out of the way, quiet, and convenient to operate. To save energy and money, you should try to buy an energy-efficient air conditioner and reduce your central air conditioner's energy use. In an average air-conditioned home, air conditioning consumes more than 2,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, causing power plants to emit about 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide and 31 pounds of sulfur dioxide. If you are considering adding central air conditioning to your home, the deciding factor may be the need for ductwork.
If you have an older central air conditioner, you might choose to replace the outdoor compressor with a modern, high-efficiency unit. If you do so, consult a local heating and cooling contractor to assure that the new compressor is properly matched to the indoor unit. However, considering recent changes in refrigerants and air conditioning designs, it might be wiser to replace the entire system. Today's best air conditioners use 30% to 50% less energy to produce the same amount of cooling as air conditioners made in the mid 1970s. Even if your air conditioner is only 10 years old, you may save 20% to 40% of your cooling energy costs by replacing it with a newer, more efficient model.
Proper sizing and installation are key elements in determining air conditioner efficiency. Too large a unit will not adequately remove humidity. Too small a unit will not be able to attain a comfortable temperature on the hottest days. Improper unit location, lack of insulation, and improper duct installation can greatly diminish efficiency. When buying an air conditioner, look for a model with a high efficiency. Central air conditioners are rated according to their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). SEER indicates the relative amount of energy needed to provide a specific cooling output. Many older systems have SEER ratings of 6 or less. The minimum SEER allowed today is 13. Look for the ENERGY STAR® label for central air conditioners with SEER ratings of 13 or greater, but consider using air conditioning equipment with higher SEER ratings for greater savings.
New residential central air conditioner standards went into effect on January 23, 2006. Air conditioners manufactured after January 26, 2006 must achieve a SEER of 13 or higher. SEER 13 is 30% more efficient than the previous minimum SEER of 10. The standard applies only to appliances manufactured after January 23, 2006. Equipment with a rating less than SEER 13 manufactured before this date may still be sold and installed. The average homeowner will remain unaffected by this standard change for some time to come. The standards do not require you to change your existing central air conditioning units, and replacement parts and services should still be available for your home's systems. The "lifespan" of a central air conditioner is about 15 to 20 years. Manufacturers typically continue to support existing equipment by making replacement parts available and honoring maintenance contracts after the new standard goes into effect.