Keeping your home cool throughout the hot summer months is obviously important for your overall comfort. Nonetheless, many people are still concerned about the possible environmental impact that running their AC all summer might have. One question that pops up quite often is whether or not air conditioning causes air pollution, and the answer to this question isn’t quite as straightforward as you think. To understand why, let’s look at the potential environmental impacts that air conditioning can contribute to.
Energy Consumption and Pollution
If everything is working properly, your air conditioner itself doesn’t technically cause pollution. However, it does use electricity, and the process of creating this energy can release pollution. Statistics from the US Department of Energy show that more than 90% of all homes in the country have air conditioning, and that AC is responsible for approximately 6% of the US’ total annual energy consumption. The fact that more than 60% of the energy we produce still comes from fossil fuels and non-renewable sources means that air conditioning alone is responsible for releasing more than 100 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.
Compare this number to motor vehicles, which release nearly 1,400 million tons of CO2 in the US each year and the impact of air conditioning suddenly doesn’t seem quite as significant. Nonetheless, the fact remains that air conditioning is still a major source of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. In this sense, the only way to really ensure that your AC isn’t producing pollution would be to switch your home to solar power or another form of renewable energy.
The Refrigerant Issue
In addition to the pollution caused by energy generation, air conditioners can potentially impact the environment in one other way. All types of air conditioning units use a chemical refrigerant in order to cool the air. The refrigerant works by absorbing excess heat from the air inside the building and transferring it outside. The only issue is that all types of refrigerants are hydrofluorocarbons, which happen to be one of the worst greenhouse gases on the planet. In fact, most HFCs are more than 1,000 times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide.
The average residential AC unit usually holds anywhere from 5 to 20 pounds of refrigerant. This amount on its own isn’t nearly enough to cause any significant environmental impact. However, HFC refrigerant can make a major difference in total when you consider how many air conditioners there are in the US alone.
The good news is that the world has been slowly transitioning to less harmful HFC refrigerants. In the past, all air conditioning systems used R-22 refrigerant, commonly known as Freon, which is one of the worst HFCs in terms of environmental impact. Freon was eventually phased out in favor of R-410a refrigerant also known as Puron. Although R-410a is a much less harmful greenhouse gas than R-22, it is still a major contributor to climate change. For this reason, the EPA has announced plans to also phase out this refrigerant.
The good news is that if your air conditioning is working properly and in good shape, the refrigerant stays sealed up inside the system and cannot escape into the atmosphere. However, as your air conditioning system ages, it may eventually develop leaks in the refrigerant lines or the evaporator or condenser coil. When this happens, it lets the toxic refrigerant escape. For this reason, it is important to have your AC system professionally inspected and maintained each year to help prevent refrigerant leaks. It also has the added bonus of ensuring that your system is functioning at its peak efficiency, reducing the amount of electricity it consumes.
Professional Cooling and Heating Services
If you’re in need of professional air conditioning maintenance or repair in Terre Haute or the surrounding areas, the NATE-certified HVAC technicians at Medcalf Heating & Cooling can help. We service all types of cooling equipment from any manufacturer, and we also work on residential and commercial heating systems. We can also help you when it comes time to install or replace a new furnace, air conditioner or any other HVAC unit, and our technicians will ensure that you get the right type and size of unit to meet your heating or cooling needs as efficiently and effectively as possible. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment or if you have any questions.