About the quality of the air we breathe indoors
Updated: Jan 23, 2019
Today a real effort is made by the UNFCCC and other climate change aware organizations to improve the quality of the ‘free’ air. That is the atmospheric air accessible to everyone.
Of course, we know this is not happening everywhere at the same time or on the same level, but nonetheless, we can say that there is currently something happening to reduce outside air pollution.
But what about the air inside your home?
When we think of air pollution we usually place it outdoors, but the air inside your house or office space can be polluted too. As a matter a fact, nearly 87% of Americans are not aware that air pollution is worse inside than outside. Numerous studies have confirmed the importance of good indoor air quality as it relates to employee and occupant health and productivity.
The health risk for people may be greater from indoor pollution rather than from outdoor contamination because most individuals live about 90% of their time indoors. It really drills down to how much time one spends inside a ‘sick building’.
Sick Building Syndrome happens when people are getting sick in a building or indoor space without knowing the exact cause, it is known to affect the health, comfort, and well-being of the occupants and can also lead to reduced productivity and impaired learning in schools. Although most people feel better as soon as they leave the building or find and remove the sources of the pollution, some pollutants can cause diseases that show up much later, such as respiratory diseases or cancer.
Making sure that your building is well-ventilated and getting rid of all pollutants can improve the quality of your indoor air.
So, what exactly are these pollutants?
Pollutants are harmful contaminants in the air; therefore, indoor air pollution is when pollutants from things such as gases and particles contaminate the air indoors. Indoor air pollution is a very real and dangerous thing because indoor air is far more concentrated with pollutants than outdoor air. - Definition from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sums up a selection of sources that could pollute the indoor air.
Household products and pesticides
Mold and pollen
Materials used in the construction such as asbestos, formaldehyde, and lead
Gases such as radon, and carbon monoxide commonly present in most homes
Refrigerant gases when leaked from AC systems
So, what are some of the solutions to Indoor Air Pollution?
Source control with the removal of the actual sources of indoor air pollution is probably one of the most important solutions. But finding these sources could be a complex matter. It may be a contaminated carpet, wall or old filters in heating, air conditioning, and ventilation units (HVAC). It could be someone smoking next door or using chemical sprays like paint or pesticides. Reducing and removing moisture can control mold and ventilation of the air by circulating natural outdoor air can clean the indoor air temporarily.
The installation of air coolers and filters ranging from small table-top versions to sophisticated whole-building AC systems can effectively remove pollutants from the air.
Unfortunately these systems still use refrigerant gases. Several refrigerant gases have been used in AC systems for many years, the most commonly known is R-22 or Freon – especially in older systems as it is now being phased out in most of the developed world.
Refrigerant leaks are very common in most AC systems. A properly running AC system circulates and maintains the same amount of refrigerant, and the correct functioning of the system relies heavily on the availability of this refrigerant. There must be enough of it, and it must remain inside the system at all times.
However, no machine is ever absolutely perfect, and so there is a multitude of spots where this refrigerant can leak out.
There are many signs of an AC refrigerant leak, we've all experienced them. There could be the loss of cooling power, so it takes longer to cool your home, because the AC is not blowing cool air. Hissing sounds coming from the indoor unit, caused by cracks or holes in the coils that circulate the refrigerant, and frozen coils caused by the build-up of frozen condensation can be other signs. All by all the system will need more electricity to cool the room, which will eventually result in elevated electricity bills.
What then are the dangers of such a refrigerant leak?
There are indeed dangers attached to such refrigerant leaks. Homeowners and inhabitants should be aware of them. The EPA summarizes them as follows.
Damage to the environment: Refrigerants possess a potential threat to the environment because they release chemicals called CFCs or chlorofluorocarbons. CFC’s, HCFCs, and HFCs are potent greenhouse gases when leaked to the atmosphere.
They deplete the ozone layer and increase the rate of global warming. Also, the chemicals in refrigerant can absorb into the soil and affect both plants and animals.
Danger to humans: The chemicals in refrigerant pose a threat to humans too. A refrigerant leak that causes humans to be exposed to high levels of chemicals can cause minor issues with the skin such as dryness and irritation. More serious issues can occur after inhalation of the chemicals and can cause significant respiratory system damage including the onset of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Chronic Bronchitis.
Damage to your AC: Although not as serious as the potential damage to you and the environment, refrigerant leaks can damage your air conditioning system. Low levels of refrigerant can cause your compressor to work overtime and damage numerous parts of the system, so it’s important to get a leak fixed right away to avoid higher costs later.
Another important point to think of when reviewing solutions to an AC refrigerant leak is which refrigerant gas your system uses. As mentioned before, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently mandated that R22 refrigerant can no longer be used after 2020 due to its destructive impact on the Earth’s ozone layer.
Hence repairs for an old R22 air conditioner will get more and more expensive as the available supply of the refrigerant declines and the price rises. So, there’s always going to be a high cost involved to repair, retrofit or buy a brand-new system that uses one of the new refrigerants.
But do you know that the process of these brand-new systems you just purchased might still be a subject of concern? The newer models use R410-A refrigerant that is an environmentally safer product, but still a pollutant.
Effectively most of the systems that treat indoor air nowadays, even if there has been considerable progress, are still not eco-friendly systems and may even be dangerous because they still use refrigerant gas.
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