Published : 23 September 2015
As the weather warms up air-conditioners across the country will start to crank. And with that comes the usual debate - and even guilt - of whether we should install air-conditioning, what temperature it should be run at, whether we can survive without it, and whether the national grid can deal with it!
There are also questions over whether it is good or bad for our health. There's no doubting air-conditioning brings relief from sweltering weather and is an obvious solution to prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths. But systems can also lead to health problems if not cleaned and maintained properly.
Let's have a look at some pros and cons:
Reducing heat stroke
The US centre for Disease Control and Prevention says "air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death," a problem that claims hundreds of lives in hot countries every year. People who are most vulnerable to heat-related illness are children under the age of 4, adults over the age of 65, people who are overweight and those who are sick or on certain medications.
However, air-conditioners can also be a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus due to the moisture that accumulates in the coils and fan blades from condensation. If left mould and fungus can build up and get blown out into the air. These microorganisms can lead to breathing problems such as pneumonia and Legionnaire's Disease.
Easing allergies and asthma
But then on the other hand, research shows that people with allergies or asthma do better in air-conditioning. The Mayo Clinic says AC can help filter out airborne pollen from trees, grasses and weeds to keep it from circulating indoors. It can also lower indoor humidity, which decreases the growth of dust mites and mould.
The best idea is to regularly clean or change your air filter and check that exhaust fans are working properly.
Getting the lowdown
If you don't already have air-conditioning at home, but are considering installing it, here's some useful information on the different systems available. There are so many different types on the market it can be difficult to select the right one for your home. Before making a purchase you’ll need to work out what size unit you need and decide whether you want to cool a single room, a host of rooms or the whole house.
If you are on a budget you might consider a portable system. This air-conditioner can be plugged into a normal power point and moved easily from room to room with no full-on installation required. If you're happy for some building work to take place, you might consider a wall or window system, where the unit fits into the top or bottom of a window or wall.
Top of the budget are split systems, central/ducted systems and ducted systems. A split system air-conditioner is 'split' into two components. The working unit (compressor) is fitted on the outside of the house while the output device is placed inside. Central/ducted systems are effective for cooling an entire house, as air is piped down ducts and through vents in the ceiling or floor. Ducted systems are capable of cooling and heating, so you save money on a heater.
Check the energy star rating
Having decided which system best fits your needs and budget, you need to decide on a model. The most important thing to look for is the energy star rating. Regulated by the government, this rating allows you to make a quick comparison between the power consumption of different air conditioners.
All energy labels show possible star ratings from a minimum of one star to a maximum of six stars. If the air-conditioner has exceptional energy efficiency it can have up to 10 stars. Units with low star ratings might be cheaper to buy but will usually cost you much more to run.
If you choose air-conditioning that requires professional installation, it's best to get several quotes so that you don't end up paying too much. Don't be tempted to install it yourself as it might not work properly or worse, you could be injured or electrocuted.