Too dry? Too much humidity? If your home experiences either extreme, you’re most likely to be uncomfortable.
Who hasn’t gone down into a basement and caught a whiff of that distinct musty odor? Of course, we’re describing an excess of humidity, which is more widespread in the summer when it’s also humid outdoors.
A somewhat common misconception is that humid air is heavier than non-humid air. Actually, humid air rises. Just watch the steam ascending from a pot of boiling water. So, if you can’t control the humidity in your basement, it will rise into the wood subfloor, up through your carpeting, and upward toward the top floors.
Put simply, if your basement is humid, so are the uppermost rooms in your house.
In the winter, the opposite effect takes place. Your house dries out as the temperature plummets. Cold air doesn’t retain moisture the way warm air does, so your skin also dries out, your wooden furniture shows signs of cracking, and breathing issues become a concern, especially for those with allergies.
True, you can’t do anything about the weather, but you can take steps to make sure your house is more comfortable year ‘round by managing the humidity levels.
Talking about humidity . . .
Okay, what are the ideal humidity levels in your home? Most experts tell us it’s around 45 percent. Anything under 30 percent is too dry and over 50 percent is too high.
How do you gauge indoor humidity levels?
Do you mean you don’t possess a sixth sense for humidity levels? Okay, almost no one does. But there are several easy ways you can determine if the humidity in your home is too high or too low.
- Fogging and condensation accumulating on windows, moisture, and mold on walls and ceilings are some indicators of high humidity.
- Increased occurrences of static electricity point to low humidity.
- Do you see any peeling paint or hear floorboards creaking excessively? Too much or too little humidity can be a cause.
- If you or a family member experiences severe headaches, loss or shortness of breath, common allergy symptoms like wheezing, or a chronic cough, then the humidity may be affecting your body.
- Check for the smell of mold and mildew. Usually, it’s the result of too much humidity. If you’ve been inside your home for a period of time, try leaving for a bit and coming back. You should be able to detect odors and smells better after you’ve breathed fresh air.
- Of course, if you really want to get serious, you can purchase a device known as a hygrometer to accurately read your home’s humidity levels. You can actually grab an inexpensive one online for as little as $10.
Fighting the humidity in the summer
It’s humid outside and if someone leaves the door open, the humidity comes in. That’s inevitable. Unless you’re planning to live the life of a hermit, the doors will open and shut routinely throughout the day.
As we’ve said, humidity begins in your basement. The problem is that most of us assume our concrete and cinder block walls are sealed. Often, they’re not, as you observe water and moisture trickling in. After all, concrete is porous.
Your air conditioning system can also be the source of high humidity. Occasionally, an air conditioning unit is over- or undersized. If a unit is oversized, it cools the house down too quickly and then shuts off which doesn’t give it sufficient time to dehumidify the air. If a unit is undersized, it’s going to be fighting an uphill battle. It’s no match for a hot, humid house.
Please note, too, that high humidity tends to be a problem in newer-built homes. Recently built homes have a tightly sealed interior envelope, which is inclined to keep the humidity inside. If it causes condensation, you’ll get moisture buildup around the house, including behind walls and ceilings.
What are the problems that might be caused by high humidity?
- Dust mites are fond of wet spaces. When dust mites multiply, you can be sure that spiders and other insects that feed on them will as well.
- Mold and mildew originate in humid environments. This is a concern in many basements and the dampness can inch upward to adjacent levels of your home. Your ductwork is also a familiar breeding ground for them.
- Asthma and other allergies flare up. If there are mold spores present in your home, you won’t breathe as clearly.
- Hot upper floors. If your master bedroom is too hot or a room in the attic is unbearable, it’s not only a temperature issue. It’s also a humidity problem since the most humid air will rise to the top of your house.
- Wet woodwork. Wooden floors and furniture can absorb water, causing them to expand. Too much expansion can lead to warping.
How can you remove excess humid air?
- Run a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from the air. This is the best and least expensive way to combat humidity in a single room. We’ve seen plenty of homes make good use of them. When purchasing a dehumidifier, be sure to check the unit’s capabilities to make sure it will meet your specific needs: Does it automatically turn off and on when the humidity level reaches a desired point? What is the capacity of the water basin and how often will it need to be emptied?
Want to go all out? Whole-house dehumidifying systems are incorporated into a home’s current heating and cooling system and ductwork. Some models can remove up to 100 pounds of water per day. This makes each room healthier since there’s a smaller chance of mold and bacteria growth.
- Run your air conditioner. It may sound obvious, but running your air conditioner will help regulate moisture in your home. But it’s vital to ensure the system is running properly in order for it to be effective at controlling humidity. Keeping registers open and unblocked to allow for good airflow and having a home’s air conditioning system routinely inspected and serviced is also key to its proper functioning.
- Ventilate your home. Another way to reduce humidity levels is to ventilate it on a regular basis. This can be done by opening windows and doors on cool, sunny days or by using ceiling and exhaust fans to circulate the air. Proper air circulation will help remove humid air and replace it with drier air from outdoors.
- Check your dryer. Installing a proper venting system for your dryer can make a remarkably big difference in the humidity level of your home. Minus proper venting, your dryer is simply blowing out all that humid air from its load of damp clothes into the air you and your family are breathing.
In addition to better air quality, venting also helps boost energy efficiency, making sure you’re not letting any excess heat escape. It only takes a few tools and some basic instructions, so why not tackle this project today?
One nice side benefit to removing moisture: Keeping humidity down. You don’t have to cool your home as much, saving you cooling costs in the summer. You’ll feel cooler in drier air.
The problem is my house is too dry in the winter!
Telltale signs for a home that’s too dry typically come down to the comfort of the person. If it feels dry, it most likely is. And you don’t need a humidistat to remind you how dry it feels.
Did you know that cold weather sucks the humidity out of the air? Breathing dry air can cause respiratory issues such as asthma, bronchitis, and sinusitis. It can trigger nosebleeds, particularly in children. It can also produce dehydration as body fluids are diminished during respiration. Other health concerns common to dry air include sore throats, eczema, and itchy skin.
By and large, it’s drier outside in the winter and when the furnace is going, it dries out the air all the more. When it’s too dry, wood dries out and contracts and you can see gaps in the floorboards.
The relative humidity in southwestern Pennsylvania can reach as low as 15 percent in the winter. For comparison, the average relative humidity of the Sahara Desert is 25 percent.
What are the chief difficulties caused by low humidity?
- Dry wood. Results in cracking floorboards and in the wooden foundation of your home. Put simply, when the wood dries out, it shrinks.
- Skin and throat issues. Dry, cracked skin and a sore throat are trademarks of the colder winter months.
- Cold spots in the house. This could be produced by an under or over-sized heating system, your ductwork, or drafty windows. Often, however, it’s directly linked to humidity.
- Illnesses. Low humidity is a great condition for numerous bacteria and viruses to survive. It’s a big part of why flu season hits over the winter in most parts of the country.
How do you add humidity to the air?
During the winter especially, humidity levels plunge because cold air holds less moisture than warm air. Homes that employ forced air heating have a worse problem as furnaces use combustion to create hot air, hence burning out most of the water vapor that was present in the first place. To make matters even worse, when humidity levels plummet, the ambient air feels cooler than in more humid circumstances and we habitually turn up the heart to make up for it!
So, what steps can you take to boost humidity levels?
- The most familiar type of humidifier is a portable one, like the kind you set down on the floor or other such surfaces. There are two kinds: cool mist and warm mist, both of which employ a reservoir to hold water. The cool mist uses a wick to absorb the water and utilizes a fan to blow the water through a moistened filter. As the air passes through the filter, it evaporates some of the water into the room.
Warm mist humidifiers make use of a heating element that heats the water before dispersing it into the air.
The pros of portable systems are that they’re easy to use, come in various styles and prices, and can be moved around the house as desired. However, control and measure of relative humidity are limited, and the reservoir needs to be refilled every 24 hours.
- Again, if you want to go all out, the preeminent and most manageable humidity system is a whole-house unit that is affixed to your furnace and delivers vapor directly into the heated air which is circulated throughout the house via your present ductwork system. As you might expect, the whole house system is the costliest option and requires a cold-water connection and space for the humidifier unit. With a whole house unit, you control humidity levels with a humidistat (yep, like a thermostat). This method has the most humidification capacity and delivers the most overall dependability.
In addition to humidifiers, you can also boost the amount of humidity in your home by placing a bowl of water close to a heating vent to create a sort of homemade humidifier. Letting your laundry air dry instead of using a clothes dryer and adding houseplants to the room also helps to increase the amount of moisture in the air.
If you notice ongoing problems with your air quality and humidity levels, there may be a larger issue with your HVAC system. If you run into any issues with your home’s heating or cooling and would rather forgo the DIY route, our technicians here at Schultheis Brothers are here to help.