Balanced humidity is an important element of indoor air quality (IAQ) which greatly affects home comfort and the health of occupants, and the costs of cooling and heating your home from one season to the next. If your home feels sticky during the summer, and too dry during the winter months, learn how managing humidity levels inside your home can help you enjoy greater comfort, better health and lower energy bills.
Moisture in your home
The amount of moisture, or water vapor, in the air is measured as humidity. The humidity inside homes is measured and referred to as relative humidity. The humidity is relative according to the temperature. In other words, the relative humidity refers to how humid the air feels as opposed to the level of moisture the air actually holds.
This phenomenon occurs because when air is heated as it enters your home during the heating months, for instance, the air expands, making the specific amount of moisture feel lower and therefore drier to the skin. When warm outside air enters your home during the cooling months and it is cooled by your air conditioner, the air contracts and feels sticky and warmer to the skin.
In these instances of air being heated and cooled, the amount of moisture in the air has not changed; only the air’s ability to hold the same amount of water vapor has changed as the air has expanded or contracted due to temperature changes.
Ideal indoor humidity levels
Managing balanced humidity and temperature inside your home is important for maintaining home comfort, health, controlling energy costs and preventing damage to wood structure and porous materials (e.g. door frames, cabinetry, musical instruments and clothing).
From Baltimore to Dover and the surrounding regions, high specific humidity plus the significant changes in temperature from one season to the next (and even one day to the next) means maintaining balanced humidity takes effort, and the solution can change day to day and hour to hour.
Optimal humidity levels are between 35 and 60 percent, depending on seasonal temperatures. During the summer (cooling months), balanced humidity is typically 35 to 45 percent. During the winter (heating months), optimal humidity is 45 to 60 percent. Maintaining balanced humidity within these ranges in our region is very tricky, considering that the annual relative humidity average is around 70 percent.
Problems with unbalanced humidity
When indoor humidity is too low or too high, problems and issues arise which affect comfort, health, home, possessions and the pocketbook. These are some of the issues you may experience when indoor humidity is too high:
- Indoor air feels sticky and uncomfortable.
- Mold and mildew thrive and grow.
- Wooden structures absorb moisture and may become damaged (e.g. warped and bowed).
- Porous possessions, such as musical instruments, clothing and photographs absorb moisture and may become damaged and/or incur mold and mildew growth.
- Allergies are exacerbated by the proliferation of dust mites, mold and mildew and other contaminants.
- Moisture in the air “holds” more heat, which can increase cooling bills during the cooling months.
These are some of the issues you may experience when indoor air is too dry, during the heating months, for instance:
- Flu virus, as well as other viruses, spread more easily in dry air.
- Dry air feels cooler to the skin than optimally humidified air of the same temperature, which may increase heating costs to maintain comfort.
- Dry air extracts moisture from wood and porous materials, which can cause cracking and splitting.
- Household occupants may experience dry skin, itchy eyes, sore throat and other ailments when indoor air is too dry.
Maintaining balanced humidity in your home
Maintaining balanced humidity inside your home may be achieved by mechanical means, such as whole-house humidification (heating months) and whole-house dehumidification (cooling months). Whole-house systems attach to existing or installed ductwork and use the heating/cooling system blower or are self-powered to distribute or remove moisture from air throughout the home.
It is also wise to practice good habits for maintaining balanced humidity in your home. Run the ventilation fans in the kitchen and bathroom when cooking and bathing. Consider a professional energy audit to highlight areas of air leaks and insulation deficiencies which allow moisture exchange between air in the living space and air outside the insulation barrier and/or outdoor air.
Work closely with your HVAC professional to devise the best balanced humidity plan for your home. For best results, contact Griffith Energy Services, Inc. today. We serve homeowners in Baltimore, Charles Town, Dover and surrounding areas.
Written by Kevin Spain