Take Control of Home Humidity

wet windowWith last night’s rains, you might notice the air feels a little heavier outside today. That effect, the natural rising of outdoor humidity levels due to heavy rains, is pretty familiar to us in central Austin, and its consequences are pretty well understood. It should come as no surprise therefore that one can expect higher humidity levels outside to seep into our homes and raise the humidity levels of our houses. Today’s modern homes are insulated to a much higher degree than houses in any other time period but there’s no such thing as perfect insulation. The weather outside is always going to affect the climate inside to a degree.

Winter usually is accompanied by dry weather, and summer and spring the opposite. This can cause all sorts of issues on either side of the coin if the humidity gets too extreme, whether it’s too dry or too wet, that’s why understanding how one can take control of the humidity in their home is extremely helpful. That’s what this tip of the day will cover, how one can use various products and techniques to change the humidity level in one’s own home and create the perfect indoor climate.

The Effects of Humidity

Before we dive into the “how of the issue, the specific ways you can start controlling the humidity in your home, let’s first go over the “why”. Let’s touch upon some of the many ways that the two extremes of humidity, both low and high, can be disadvantages and why exerting some control over the humidity in your home is a good idea.

Let’s look at low humidity first, as that is what is most common to experience during the colder months. The fall and winter are usually associated with dryer weather, today’s storms being one of the many exceptions. Simply due to their nature, these colder seasons are going to be accompanied with a lack of moisture in the air that translates to dryer air in the home. This can have serious effects to both your personal health and the health of your home and the things in it. For example, if humidity levels dip too low your furniture and house will deteriorate and certain germs will thrive.

During the winter humidity levels drop because cold air holds less moisture than warm air. Homes that utilize forced air heating have an exacerbated problem because furnaces use combustion to create hot air, thus burning out most of the water vapor that existed in the first place. To make matters worse, when humidity levels dip the ambient air feels cooler than more humid environments, and we turn up the heat to compensate. This means that the low humidity itself will cost you in your utility bills because you’ll find yourself needing to increase your Austin heating more than if the humidity wasn’t low.

Low humidity also causes a serious of negative effects to your health such as static electricity, dry skin and hair, increased susceptibility to colds and respiratory illness, and can allow viruses and germs to thrive. Wood floors, furniture and millwork will split and crack because the low humidity will dry up wooden objects and cause them to shrink ever so slightly. The paint will chip, and electronics can be damaged because of low humidity levels.

We can also expand further on the negative effects of low humidity on your health. Low humidity can dry out your skin, eyes and the mucous membrane that lines your respiratory tract. With its natural barrier compromised, your respiratory tract can be invaded by viruses and bacteria, which can lead to colds and other infections. What’s more, flu viruses actually survive longer when humidity levels are low. Low humidity can also lead to irritated sinuses, causing dry lips and skin to crack. Cracked skin offers another pathway for bacteria, which can lead to skin infections.

High humidity can be just as big of an issue. This isn’t something as common during the winter but it can still occur, especially in naturally wet climates like ours in Austin. Heating becomes easier with more humidity because the air will naturally trap more heat but this is about the only benefit to a high humidity winter. It is possible for homes to have too much humidity, even in the winter, which will create its own set of problems, particularly the issue of condensation. This does not typically occur in older homes, but new, tightly constructed buildings will retain more heat and moisture, which is when mechanical ventilation is important. During the winter you will first notice this at windows: when warm, moist air comes in contact with a cold window, air temperature drops and it can no longer hold the water vapor and condensation results. If a home does not have the proper mechanical and natural ventilation, excess water vapor can travel through walls and ceilings, causing wet insulation, peeling paint, and mold on walls and rot in woodwork.

You’ll know your home is too humid if the indoor air feels too damp and sticky on the skin, and requires more heating or cooling to feel comfortable. Excessively moist air can also lead to mold and mildew problems in the home, and it can ruin furniture, books, clothes and leather items.

The Ideal Humidity

So now we’ve taken a look at excessively high levels of humidity and excessively low, but what exactly does a good level of humidity look like? On the numbers side, as a good rule of thumb, indoor humidity levels should hover around 45%. Anything under 30% is too dry, over 50% is too high. According to ENERGY STAR, the U.S. EPA's voluntary program for energy efficiency, the ideal indoor humidity level is between 30% and 50%. Proper management of indoor humidity levels has several positive effects.

One of these positive effects is just a general sense of increased personal comfort. Air that’s just right, not too humid and not too dry, just simply feels more comfortable to the skin. You’ll also avoid the negative effects of moisture or the lack of it on your furniture such as the cracking of wood, the chipping of paint, and the increased likelihood of mold buildup. Indoor air quality will improve due to eliminating the wet climate needed for the thriving of dust mites, mold, and other allergens. You’ll see a reduction in pest infestations as well. Not to mention your energy efficiency will see an increase as the air conditioner won’t have to battle the warming effects of a humid house and the heater won’t have to battle the cooling effects of a dry one.

Humidifying a Dry Home

Unfortunately, most heating and cooling systems are not designed to manage indoor humidity. Home heating and cooling systems are controlled by a thermostat, which uses a thermometer, so indoor humidity control is only an incidental byproduct of the system operation. This is a problem for homes in the south because indoor humidity is often more important than air temperature.

During the winter, the problem you’re most likely going to encounter when it comes to humidity is too little of it. That’s why we’ll look at adding humidity to dry home first. You’ll know your home is too dry if you notice any of these simple signs: increased instances of static electricity, dried and cracking millwork and paint, and dry skin and hair. Of course, if you really want to make sure, you can always invest in an inexpensive humidistat. As was mentioned, ideal indoor relative humidity is between 45% and 55%, but must always be maintained between 40% and 60%.

First, let it be known that there are ways to add humidity to your home without spending a single cent. Adding moisture to the air can be as simple as placing a vessel of water on top of, or next to, a radiator (or other air heating system). Leaving wet towels and clothes out to dry are other ways to introduce moisture into the air. This is a very low-tech and low power method, however the strength and humidity controls are limited, and available moisture is dependent on the size of the vessel used, and must be frequently refilled. Making this not the most convenient or powerful method of humidifying a dry home.

Next up in humidifying methods is the portable humidifier. There are two types: cool mist and warm mist, both of which use a reservoir to hold water. The cool mist uses a wick to absorb the water and a fan blows air through a moistened filter and as the air passes through the filter, it evaporates some of the water into the room. Warm mist humidifiers use a heating element that heats the water before dispersing it into the air. The pros of portable systems are that they are easy to use, a variety of styles and prices are available, and they can be moved as needed. However, similar to the evaporative method above, control and measure of relative humidity is limited, and the reservoir must be refilled about every day or so.

Lastly there is the whole home humidifying system. This is the best and most controllable humidity system. A whole house humidifier is added to a furnace and vapor is distributed directly into the heated air and circulated throughout the house via the furnace duct system. The system is the most expensive, can be installed by owner or a professional, and requires a cold water connection and room for the humidifier unit. Humidity levels are controlled via a humidistat and the method has the greatest humidification capacity and is most consistent.

Dehumidifying a Humid Home

Dehumidifying a home can also be easy or difficult, depending on the extent of the humidity and the specific details of the house. For small humidity problems, sometimes something as simple as using exhaust fans while cooking and bathing or opening a window to exchange fresh, drier air can have a big impact.

Other simple DIY methods of reducing humidity without purchasing any outside products include reducing the amount of water introduced into the home by cooking with covered pots; taking cooler, shorter showers; venting clothes dryers directly to the outside; and reducing the number of plants in the home.

If the humidity problem is more significant, you many need to invest in a dehumidifier. There are a number of different types of home dehumidifiers. For instance, there is the desiccant dehumidifier, which uses desiccants, which are substances that naturally absorb moisture (i.e. the little packets of silica gel included in electronics). These are best suited for lower temperatures and moderate humidity.

Peltier dehumidifiers are usually recommended for small areas such as average size bedrooms, bathrooms, but also RVs and closets. Although they are somewhat less energy efficient these units are valued for being quiet and efficient.

Finally you have the most robust system, the mechanical dehumidifier. These essentially work like your home’s fridge or air conditioning. Air passes across a cooled metal plate or coil, condensing the airborne moisture, which then drips into the water tank. Contrary to an AC these units slightly increase air temperature. These are best suited for moderate to high humidity levels and moderate to warm conditions, like the summer and spring, as this type of humidifier does not work well in cooler conditions.

Controlling Humidity and Heating Repair in Austin

Humidity is often the unsung factor of comfort in the home. Too low or too high, humidity levels can wreak havoc on both your health and the health of the things in your home. That’s why it’s important to have some understanding of how to control humidity levels in the home. Hopefully, with the help of some of these tips, you can start to do so.

If you ever need help with any aspect of your HVAC system, from air conditioner maintenance to heater repair in Austin, try AC Express. AC Express is an Austin heater repair company that operates throughout the area, from Cedar Park and Georgetown to Leander and Taylor. For the best Austin heating service around, call today!