The Role Humidifiers Play in Maintaining Indoor Air Quality

Published on: September 28, 2014
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The Southeast U.S. may be known for its sultry summer weather, but there are also times when humidity levels fall too low for comfort. Dry air lowers indoor air quality, causing a variety of problems. Humidifiers correct this issue, protecting your health, preventing damage to your belongings, and helping you control your energy bills.

The Ideal Home Humidity Level

Your home’s relative humidity is the amount of water vapor the air contains. On average, the ideal is around 40 to 50 percent. This varies with the outdoor temperature, though. In winter, you may find 35 percent to be the ideal for your home.

While slightly lower home humidity levels are appropriate in cold weather, many homes become too dry thanks to a constantly running heating system. Forced-air systems, which blow air into your rooms, are especially problematic.

If you’re unsure about your indoor humidity levels, you can use a hygrometer to monitor them. This simple device measures humidity and can be mounted on your wall.

When the outdoor temperatures are low and the indoor heat is running, the humidity in the average home can easily fall below 25 percent. Consider that even the Sahara Desert can reach higher humidity levels than this. Understandably, humidity this low interferes with your indoor air quality.

How Improving the Humidity Level Helps

Too little moisture in your air has wide-reaching effects not only for you, but for your home as well. Using a humidifier to improve indoor air quality will help resolve the dry air problems you’re currently having and ensure the situation doesn’t worsen.

  • Defend your health – Dry air pulls moisture out of your body and causes itchy dry skin, chapped lips and dry eyes. It also dries out airways, so you may notice your nose and throat feel dry and scratchy. Dry nasal passages can lead to frequent nose bleeds, another sign your air is too dry.While high humidity is commonly known as an asthma trigger, low humidity also can increase the likelihood of asthma attacks.

    Excess humidity encourages the growth of dust mites, which can aggravate allergies, but dry air irritates airways and can worsen any existing allergy symptoms. Keeping indoor humidity at no more than 48 percent will ensure you get the benefits of sufficient moisture without helping out the dust mites.

    Dry air also increases your susceptibility to colds and flu. Without sufficient moisture, your respiratory tract can’t effectively protect itself from viruses. To make matters worse, many types of the rhinovirus (cold virus) flourish in dry air.

  • Stay more comfortable – Dry air makes you feel colder than you would in sufficiently humid air. As the dry air pulls moisture from your skin, it creates an evaporative cooling effect, making you feel several degrees cooler. It’s essentially the same effect you’d feel if you were to pour water on your body and stand in a breeze. While that might be nice in summer, in winter it will only make you chilly. Adding humidity to the air will help you stay warmer.
  • Reduce heating costs – Depending on how dry your home’s air is, it could be making you feel around two or three degrees colder than you would if there were a healthy level of moisture in the air. Naturally, you’re likely to raise your thermostat temperature to compensate.By correcting the humidity, humidifiers make you feel warmer so you can lower the thermostat setting. For every degree you lower the temperature below 70 degrees, you stand to save around 4 to 5 percent on heating costs. Lower the temperature by three degrees and you could see a savings of 15 percent.
  • Prevent static electricity buildup – Dry air acts as an insulator, preventing excess electrons from being discharged into the air. When there’s an imbalance of electrons in one location, you get static electricity. Touch a metal object where this electricity has developed and you’ll get a minor shock as the electricity discharges. These shocks are uncomfortable, but worse than that, they can damage electronics. Clingy clothes and fly-away hair are also annoyances caused by static electricity. Raising the humidity level makes this electricity less likely to form.
  • Protect home furnishings and decor – Your body isn’t the only place from which the air draws moisture. It also will take moisture from wood items, such as wood furniture, window frames, hardwood flooring and wall panels, and wooden musical instruments such as pianos. As the wood dries, it can crack and warp, becoming permanently damaged.

When the humidity is too low, wallpaper can peel when it dries out, and paint and plaster can begin to chip. House plants also suffer because dry air saps moisture from the leaves. By supplying an appropriate amount of moisture, humidifiers keep your home looking better and prevent costly damage.

Choosing a Humidifier

Humidifiers come in two basic forms: portable, standalone models and whole-house units. Portable humidifiers are small devices that plug into an ordinary outlet and can be moved from room to room as necessary. A whole-house humidifier is usually installed in the forced-air heating system. Each has its pros and cons, but for a home with an overall dryness problem, a whole-house system offers a number of benefits.

  • Optimal humidity in every room – A whole-house humidifier runs whenever the furnace runs, humidifying the air as it passes through. The warm, humidified air is then blow into the duct system and distributed to all rooms to improve indoor air quality throughout your home. A standalone system, by contrast, can only humidify the air in one room or small area.
  • Less maintenance – Portable humidifiers need to be cleaned once every week or two. Forget for too long and the system will develop mold and bacteria that could harm your health. A whole-house humidifier requires cleaning only once a month or less, depending on the design, and at the end of the heating season.

How a Whole-House Humidifier Does Its Job

Whole-house humidifiers are available in two common types: the reservoir type and the flow-through type.

  • Reservoir type – The most common type of humidifier, these models contain a reservoir of water and a foam pad called a wick. The foam pad is attached to a rotating drum that passes the pad through the reservoir, allowing it to absorb water. The furnace fan blows warm air through the pad and the air picks up water vapor. The now-humidified air continues out to your rooms.While this is the least expensive humidifier type, it’s also the hardest to maintain. The pan and pad must be cleaned monthly and the pad replaced at least once a year. Skip regular cleaning and the pad could become moldy.
  • Flow-through type – Also known as drip-style humidifiers, these models contain a metal or plastic screen instead of a foam pad. While the furnace is running, a constant drip of water is directed onto the screen. Warm air from the furnace blows through this screen to pick up moisture. The main advantage of these models is that there’s no damp foam to provide a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. On the downside, these types consume more water than other types of humidifiers.

If you’re tired of putting up with the problems dry air can cause, it may be time to consider installing a whole-house humidifier. Contact us at AirConditioningSouthEast.com for help finding a contractor in your area who can advise you on the best ways to improve your humidity and indoor air quality.