The Importance Of Maintaining Proper Indoor Humidity
Maintaining a comfortable indoor humidity level is important no matter where you live. Not only can high or low humidity levels impact your comfort level, but it can also affect your family’s health, the condition of your furniture, and your monthly utility bills. That is why it is very important to understand how to maintain optimal humidity levels, so you can keep your house comfortable and running efficiently all year long.
Generally speaking the optimal relative humidity inside your home should be between 35% to 50%. This will ensure you remain comfortable and healthy all year.
The below video highlights the importance of maintaining ideal humidity levels inside your home, and provides some helpful tips for controlling your indoor humidity:
What Is Relative Humidity
Relative humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air measured as a percentage of the total amount of water it can hold at a given temperature. For example, if you see a reading of 100% relative humidity, that tells you that the air has become completely saturated with water vapor. Or at 50%, the air is holding half of the total water vapor it can hold at that temperature.
You may not realize that the relative humidity in the air is key to how cool or hot we feel physically. During a hot summer day, you might notice that you feel sticky when you go outside. That’s due to the high moisture level in the air. Hot summer air holds a lot more moisture than during the winter, causing higher relative humidity levels in the summer. This added moisture in the air makes the temperature outside feel even hotter.
Furthermore, this increase in humidity during the hot summer months can start to cause moisture damage inside your house. With too much moisture, you may see mold and mildew growth, dust mites, and damage to your home. You will also probably feel more uncomfortable inside the house when it’s too humid, which could make it hard to sleep or relax at home. Plus, your HVAC system’s efficiency will be reduced, which could lead to a higher electric bill even though you still feel uncomfortable inside.
In the winter months when the temperature drops, the air outside has less capacity to hold water vapor. On top of that, as the levels of humidity drop the air around you will start to feel even colder, and we then crank up the heat to compensate. This further complicates issues, as the forced hot air from our heaters can quickly burn out much of the remaining water vapor in the air.
Common problems with having too little moisture in the air include dry skin, dry nasal passages, increased occurrence of colds and viruses, static electricity, and damage to you wood floors and cabinets.
You can see, if the relative humidity inside your home starts to fall outside of the optimal levels (either too high or too low), you will likely start to feel uncomfortable and you could even become sick. You might also start to see damage to you home, electronics, games and furnishings. Relative humidity can have a huge impact on items in your home such as guitars or even pool tables and pool cues. If you want to keep your playing at its best, you might want to invest in either a dehumidifier or humidifier to keep the moisture levels right.
The below video does a good job (albiet in a robotic voice!) of explaining the importance of relative humidity inside your home:
How Do You Know Your Home’s Relative Humidity Level?
There are telltale signs that can indicate your home’s relative humidity level. If you have condensation and fogging on your windows or see mold growing anywhere inside, these are clear signs that you have too much humidity inside your home. On the other hand, if you see cracking paint or experience more static electricity, that is a definite sign that your home has low humidity levels.
If you want a precise reading of your home’s humidity level, you could use a hygrometer. A hygrometer is an indoor humidity sensor which will accurately read the humidity levels in your home. Some models work effectively and cost as low as $10; however, you can also buy a high-end version which can check the amount of dust in your air, toxic chemical levels, and carbon dioxide levels, as well as your home’s levels of humidity.
What To Do If Your Indoor Humidity Level Is Too High?
Issues with high humidity are most common in the summer, as the higher temperatures outside can hold more water vapor. When you are in a home that has issues with too high humidity, you will probably start to see condensation around the house, especially around the windows. Without proper ventilation, the extra water vapor in the air can travel through your ceiling and walls causing mold to grow, woodwork to rot, paint to peel, and your insulation to get wet.
With high humidity (above 50%), you will also see an increase in allergen growth. Fungi, mold and dust mites tend to thrive in damp environments. Not all fungi and mold are easy to see or grow, so you might not notice them right away. It’s only after you start to feel sick that you may realize you have a problem. You might also feel uncomfortable and have difficulty sleeping at night.
Here are a few tips on how to lower the humidity in your home (typically in the summer when air has more moisture):
- Turn off any humidifiers that may still be running
- Use a whole house dehumidifier or a portable dehumidifier for rooms where you feel the most moisture, for example in bathrooms and basements
- Proper ventilation is necessary anywhere you see a lot of moisture build-up, for example in basements, kitchens, and bathrooms
- After you shower or cook, it is good to get into the habit of running your exhaust fan to get rid of the dampness in the air
- In rooms where you don’t have an exhaust fan, open a window regularly to improve ventilation and allow the air to dry out
- When doing laundry, make sure you vent your clothes dryer to the outside
Of these tips, probably the most effective method to rapidly remove excess humidity from the air would be to use a dehumidifier. Portable dehumidifiers will target specific areas of your home where dampness accumulates, like in the bathroom. You could also use a whole house dehumidifier to constantly maintain an ideal humidity level throughout your home.
In general, dehumidifiers very effectively help to alleviate indoor asthma and allergy triggers, reduce condensation, stop the growth of mold and mildew, improve musty odors, and improve your overall comfort level. The best thing about a dehumidifier system is that it puts you back in control of your indoor air quality. I’ve written a helpful guide on whole dehumidifiers, which you can find here.
What To Do If Your Indoor Humidity Level Is Too Low?
In the wintertime, humidity levels tend to drop due to cold air holding less moisture than warmer air. When you have too low humidity, you might notice an increase in static electricity. Further, with less moisture in the air, you may suffer from dry skin, sore throats, bloody noses, itchy eyes, dry sinuses, difficulty breathing and worsening asthma. Dry nasal passages make it difficult for us to expel mucus and germs, and this makes us more susceptible to colds and viruses. This is why people tend to get sick more often in the winter months.
If the relative humidity in your home drops below 30%, you might also start to notice chipping paint, as well as cracks and damage to you floors and wood furniture.
Here are a few tips on how to increase the humidity in your home (typically in the winter when air is drier):
- Use a portable or whole house humidifier to add moisture back to the air
- Place water basins near your heaters to encourage natural evaporation of water into the air
- You can also leave out wet towels and clothes to dry to naturally introduce more moisture into the air
- Common houseplants can also help to improve humidity levels
Of these tips, I typically prefer to use humidifiers in my home. I find they are extremely effective at adding moisture back to air and helping to soothe my dry air symptoms. I often suffer from dry, cracking skin, nose bleeds, and sinus problems in the winter, and a humidifier works very well to keep me healthy and comfortable.
Personally, I use a portable humidifier, which is the most common type of humidifier. They can provide either warm mist or a cool mist and they use a reservoir to hold water. There is a lot to consider when purchasing a portable humidifier, for example safety, room size, and budget. If you think a portable humidifier could be right for you, you can check out my buying tips here.
If you have a serious indoor humidity problem, you could also consider installing a whole-house humidifier that you can connect to your HVAC system. A whole house humidifier will give you the most consistency and the highest humidification capacity of any option. These units allow you to distribute vapor directly into the heated air, which will then circulate all through your home via the normal duct system. Keep in mind this is the costliest option, and it will require that you have a cold-water connection as well as space to store the humidifier unit. I’ve written a review of the best whole house humidifiers on the market, which you can find here.
Keeping your home running at an optimal humidity level between 35% – 50% all year long is very important, not only for the sake of your family’s health and comfort, but also to keep your energy costs low and damage to your home at a minimum.
You’ll fall into all sorts of problems if you’re relative humidity falls below 35%. This is more likely to happen in the colder winter months when the air holds less moisture and we turn on our heaters. Some of the most common issues you’ll find include dry skin and nasal passages, increased occurrence of colds and viruses, static electricity, and damaged paint and wood furnishings.
Conversely, when the humidity in your home rises above 50%, typically in the summer when the hot air can hold more moisture, you’re likely to experience a different range of issues. The damp air is breeding ground for allergens like mold, mildew and dust mites. This is not only dangerous for your health but can also wreak havoc on your home.
Therefore, it’s really important to stay in control of your home’s indoor humidity level all year long. You can use tools like a hygrometer to accurately measure your home’s relative humidity, or simply follow some more common sense, intuitive hints (e.g., static electricity vs. condensation on the windows).
Once you determine whether you have high or low humidity levels, you can then choose one of the methods described above to help you regain control of your home’s indoor air quality.