Home comfort is something we all want, but when the temperature, humidity or air quality is off, it can interfere with the enjoyment of your home. Too low or too high a humidity in your home for long periods of time can be uncomfortable.
Some signs of low humidity in the air include static electricity, dry skin and hair, and wood flooring and furniture cracking.
If you see condensation building up around the inside of your windows, if they get fogged up or you see water in the windowsill or on the floor beneath the windows, that’s could be from excess moisture in the home resulting in condensation.
What Causes Humidity to Become Too Low in the Winter?
Cold air holds less moisture than warm air. Cold air from the outdoors can creep into your home from:
- Infiltration through drafts cracks in the building.
- Exchange of indoor and outdoor air through devices such as exhaust fans and range hoods. When outdoor air mixes with your indoor air, there is less water vapor in the indoor air and this causes the humidity level to drop.
- Your gas furnace draws in outside air, heats it and distributes it indoors. In the process of heating the air, the combustion burns off much of the water vapor.
What Causes Humidity to Become Too High?
There are multiple sources of humidity in a home, including cooking, showering and setting humidifiers too high.
Look for these telltale signs of excess humidity in the home:
- Visible condensation on windows (happens mostly when the weather is 35 degrees F or colder)
- Wet stains on walls, ceilings
- Moldy bathrooms
- Musty odors
- Clammy feeling in the air
Tightly built energy-efficient homes and some upgraded older homes can have high humidity levels in the winter because homes that don’t allow moisture to come in also won’t allow it to get out. They key to over-humidification is ventilation that allows the excess moisture to get out.
Measuring Humidity Levels
If there are visible signs of either over or under humidification you really should know the exact levels of humidity. If you want an accurate reading of humidity levels (and usually temperature) you could get an inexpensive hygrometer. Or, you could get a more expensive item called an air quality monitor which will measure temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels, toxic chemicals and dust.
Some Solutions for a House with Too Little Humidity
For a house that is too dry, there are some inexpensive low-tech options:
Add Moisture. Anything that adds moisture to the air is helpful:
- Showering with the bathroom door open
- Boiling water and stovetop cooking
- Air drying clothes
- Put bowls of water on windowsills and registers
Stand-Alone Humidifiers. A warm mist humidifier (steam vaporizer) boils water to create steam which is sprayed into the atmosphere to increase the moisture in the air.
Cool Mist Humidifier. There are two types of cool mist humidifiers.
- Evaporative: a fan pulls in warm air from the room and evaporated water is held inside a wick. As water evaporates the air becomes more humid. These are usually inexpensive and can be used in large areas. But they tend to be loud and need regular maintenance.
- Ultrasonic: no fan is used. This type uses high-frequency ultrasonic vibrations to evaporate the water. This type of humidifier is quiet but can spread a fine dust and is effective only in medium sized rooms.
Cool mist humidifiers use less electricity than a warm mist humidifier.
Whole house humidifier: This would be installed as part of your HVAC system. It is connected to the ductwork of your furnace and your home’s water supply. Installing a furnace humidifier will provide optimal humidification throughout your entire house. Whole house humidifiers work with the home furnace to efficiently distribute moisture to all living areas. Comparatively, portable humidifiers are only effective in smaller areas. Humidifiers installed with the home furnace use little energy and require minimal maintenance, making them a more user-friendly option.
Some Solutions for a House with Too Much Humidity
There are some ways to lower the humidity level in your home:
- Lower the setting on your humidifier
- Cook with pots covered and the range hood on
- Vent your shower
- Fix any leaking pipes
- Install a heat recovery ventilator (HRV)
If you see condensation on your windows, try adjusting your humidifier so your humidity level is lower. This, and the other simple actions, should help to lower the humidity level, and you should see results soon. But, you should contact an HVAC professional if these quick fixes don’t work because you might have a ventilation problem. Homes now are built to be airtight to save cool air in the summer and heat in the winter. An unfortunate side effect of this is that humidity that can’t escape.
A ventilator system that retains heat but allows humidity out and fresh air in might be the right answer. These are called heat recovery ventilators, or HRVs. HRVs are flexible and energy efficient and can be installed to support any type of residential heating system. If you’re using an HRV, a good rule of thumb would be to set the winter time humidity level to 30% and then monitor your moisture levels. A wise move is to talk to an HVAC specialist to make sure your particular needs are met.