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While many air conditioners will be dormant over spring due to more moderate temperatures, the shift into summer and increased air conditioner use may result in a range of health problems.

Decomposing animals and nasty bacteria are just some of the things that can be hidden in the inner workings of split-system air conditioning units, posing major health hazards to homes and offices.

Traditionally, manufacturers inform purchasers that they need to clean the filters in their air conditioning units; however, contaminants will accumulate at numerous other points throughout the system.

Sharon Jurd, director of HydroKleen – an Australian company that offers comprehensive cleaning services for split-system air conditioning systems – says the potential consequences of poor maintenance can be devastating.

“Since we established our business three years ago, our service people have removed colonies of insects, rotting snakes, toads and a range of marsupials from domestic and commercial air conditioning systems, all of which can result in bacteria being sprayed into the home or office and inhaled by occupants,” Jurd says.

“These airborne particles can result in a variety of infections and health problems.”
But it’s not just dead animals that can create issues, she says. “Regardless of whether animals have made their way in, these units ordinarily collect large amounts of dust and dirt which can play havoc with respiratory systems.

“The increased temperature and moisture created by air conditioners facilitates the growth of natural organisms, while speeding up natural decomposition processes of animal and plant matter.

“Mould, mildew and fungi can accumulate deep inside air conditioning units, which can lead to a loss of airflow, overworked motors, higher running costs and increased allergens in the home or office.”

Poorly maintained air conditioners can also distribute legionella bacteria, causing the potentially fatal Legionnaires' disease.

The legionella bacteria typically grows in temperatures between 20 to 50°C, making air conditioning units an ideal breeding ground.

“Given how simple having a unit cleaned is, it’s a small price to pay to guard against a range of health problems,” she says.

“Most people don’t think about what’s inside their unit, it’s a simple case of out of sight, out of mind.”

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