Indoor Comfort Issues:  Too Much Or Too Little Humidity?

Posted 03-10-09

Controlling the humidity levels in your home greatly influences the comfort you will experience as well as save you energy and reduce maintenance. Your home will feel most comfortable at humidity levels between 30 - 50%. We need humidity for our comfort and health but too much or too little can produce many difficulties for homeowners.

First, let’s discuss what humidity is and what problems we experience when humidity is too low or too high. Then we’ll talk about what you as a homeowner can do to control humidity in your home.

What is humidity?

The term most often used to define the amount of water vapor in the air is "relative humidity." Relative humidity is the percentage of water vapor in the air at a specific temperature; compared to the amount of water vapor the air is capable of holding at that temperature. Warm air holds more water vapor than cold air. When air at a certain temperature contains all the water vapor it can hold at that temperature, its relative humidity is 100 percent. If it contains only half the water vapor it is capable of holding at that temperature, the relative humidity is 50 percent.

The problems with low humidity

When the temperature outside falls, your furnace runs more. In extreme cold conditions, your home humidity level can drop as low as 10 percent. By comparison, the Sahara Desert has an average relative humidity of 25 percent. When you consider that people generally are most comfortable when the relative humidity is approximately 40 percent, you can see how dry indoor air can take a toll on your family.

Low humidity causes static electricity, dry skin, lips and hair, scratchy throats and noses, and itching and chapping. Mucous membranes in nose and throat dry out, increasing your discomfort and susceptibility to colds and respiratory illness. With low humidity levels, body moisture evaporates so quickly that you feel chilled even at higher thermostat settings.

Your home suffers, too. Low humidity can cause havoc with woodwork and furniture. You'll notice shrinkage, hardwood floor separation and warping, your piano will go out of tune, wallpaper peels at the edges, drawers loosen and molding gaps start to appear.

The problems with high humidity

When the temperatures warm up outside you can experience too much humidity in your home. Too much humidity can cause condensation on windows, wet stains on walls and ceilings, moldy bathrooms, musty odor, and/or clammy feel to the air. Rot and structural damage can also result from extended periods of high humidity in your home. And, especially in the South, it can draw pests. Bugs are always looking for water and condensation provides bugs with the water they need.

High humidity can be especially dangerous when combined with high temperatures, as it will disrupt the body's ability to cool itself, which may lead to a heat stroke. People with heart problems or asthma are advised to be extremely careful during such conditions. Drier air provides comfort at higher temperatures, so homeowners can raise the setting on their central air conditioners thereby reducing their energy use.

High humidity can even trigger allergic reactions, contribute to ongoing allergies, and dust mite problems. High humidity makes it easier for molds to reproduce, and they can appear virtually anywhere, damaging whatever they grow upon. Mold spores pose a threat for allergy and asthma sufferers. Dust mites will thrive when the humidity is high. Present in almost every home, these tiny pests are yet another nuisance for people with allergies and asthma.

How to remedy humidity problems

Investigate. If you suspect that the air in your home is too dry or too moist, the first thing to do is verify the facts. You can go to weather.com Indoor Humidity Meter and this will help you determine what is happening with the water vapor inside your home. You can invest in a small, inexpensive and easy-to-use instrument called a hygrometer (sometimes referred to as a humidity sensor or relative humidity indicator.) This can measure the humidity level in your house and confirm if you have too much or too little. You can also call a Coolray Professional to test, assess and remediate your indoor air quality problems. A host of tools are at your disposal to fix the problem so that you can enjoy your home safely and comfortably.

If humidity is too low:    

  • Install a humidifier directly to your heating and cooling system or purchase individual units for rooms or areas in your home. *
  • Boiling or cooking with the lids off the pans
  • Moisture from the shower or bathroom
  • Keep houseplants

If humidity is too high:

  • Install a dehumidifier directly to your heating and cooling system or purchase individual units for rooms or areas in your home. * (A natural gas dehumidifier, recently introduced to the market, removes 80 pints of water per day.)
  • Turn down or stop using your humidifier
  • Vent areas that create moist air, like the shower or bathroom
  • Use range and bathroom exhaust fans while cooking and bathing
  • Cook with pans covered
  • Take shorter showers with cooler water
  • Install fresh air intake duct
  • Reduce number of plants in your home
  • Vent clothes drier to outside
  • Air conditioning – make sure your air conditioner is sized correctly. When it runs, it may run a little longer, but it will be pulling out moisture and will have an easier time cooling so it’s not costing you any more. (Size = one ton of air conditioning for every 600 square feet of indoor space)
  • Add carpet – this will actually trap moisture

Coolray has been serving Atlanta, Georgia area customers since 1966 and can help with all of your indoor comfort issues.

*A humidifier/dehumidifier built into your heating and cooling system is the best long-term solution. The water supply is constant and it can be controlled by a humidistat mounted on your wall, properly regulating the humidity in your home. With the right amount of humidity, you’ll find that you can be comfortable at a lower thermostat setting. And that will increase your comfort as well as save you money on your energy bills.

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