Humidity levels play a big role in our personal comfort. Hot and humid summer days can feel downright sticky, while cold, dry winter air can dry out our skin. But humidity also has a major impact on our homes and our health. Mold, scratchy throats, creaky floorboards, and even nosebleeds can all be the result of unbalanced humidity levels. Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to find the right balance for you and your family.
Why it's Important to Manage Your Indoor Humidity Levels
We’re all familiar with the weather extremes in Minnesota and other parts of the upper Midwest: hot and humid in summer, cold and dry in winter. Both of those extremes can make it a real challenge to keep your indoor humidity levels under control, but doing so is an important part of maintaining optimal indoor air quality. Here are the top two reasons why controlling your home’s humidity is so very important.
We all want to be as comfortable as possible, especially in the middle of weather extremes. In the high-humidity months of summer, an excess of indoor moisture will make us feel warmer and stickier. That’s because high moisture content in the air causes the moisture on our skin to evaporate more slowly — or not at all — leaving us with that hot and sticky feeling. Yuck!
The opposite is true in the cold, dry days of winter. With too little moisture in the air, our skin can feel and become too dry, which can lead to uncomfortable itchy, scaly skin and a small fortune spent on moisturizers.
But even beyond personal levels of comfort, humidity levels in your home can actually affect your health. This is perhaps most obvious if your humidity is especially high. When indoor humidity hits 60 percent, it creates an environment that mold just loves to breed in. Then, the spores are released into the air that you and your family breathe. Depending on an individual's tolerance to mold, that can become a pretty serious issue. It’s especially problematic for any family members who have allergies or other respiratory concerns. By contrast, really dry air can lead to sore, scratchy throats and coughs, as well as dry nasal passages that can lead to nosebleeds.
Signs Your House is Too Humid
There’s no better first check for a humidity issue than using your own five senses.
- A musty or moldy smell is a big indicator that an area of your home has too much moisture (often the basement). If your humidity level hits 60%, you may even be able to see mold growth in places where you’re getting too much moisture.
- Condensation on your windows in the winter months is another hint that your humidity levels may be too high. Neglected, wood frames can begin to rot or invite pests that can eat away at the wood.
- If you or your family members start to show signs of increased health issues like asthma or allergies, it could be related to mold and mildew growth as a result of overly humid conditions.
Signs Your House Isn't Humid Enough
When it comes to the other end of the spectrum — not enough moisture in your home — you’ll be able to see it, hear it, and feel it.
- You may see cracks or buckling in wood flooring or furnishings. Or, you may hear your floors and doors creak a little bit more, especially in the drier winter months. Left untended, these early signs can lead to warped doors, split furniture, and peeling paint.
- You’re likely to feel some of the more uncomfortable signs of low humidity — shocks from static electricity, dry skin, chapped lips, and even nosebleeds.
- Beyond being uncomfortable, low humidity can contribute to more colds and viruses, or set the stage for skin infections.
How to Manage Summer Humidity Levels in Your Home
The good news is that there are some very simple steps you can take to manage your home’s humidity levels.
- Limit activities that contribute to the problem. For example, boiling water or steam cleaning carpets, both of which will release steam into the air.
- Keep water temperatures moderate when showering or bathing.
- Unless it’s cool and dry, it's best to keep your windows closed. Keeping your home properly sealed with good ventilation is a top defense against humidity.
- Clean your central air conditioner inside and out, and be sure to change the filters. If it’s been a while, a professional inspection and tune-up can not only help your humidity issues, but it can extend the life of your AC.
- Invest in a dehumidifier. If you’ve done all the above and still have too much humidity in your home, it’s probably time to invest in a good dehumidifier. You can get an affordable portable unit that will work well for a single room, such as a basement living space. But if your problem is more widespread, you’ll want to look into a whole-house dehumidifier. These units are installed as part of your overall HVAC system and while more expensive, they do provide much greater overall comfort and control. A dehumidifier, in conjunction with your AC, will be the extra help you need to get excess moisture out of your home.
What's the Best Humidity Level in Summer?
Humidity control is important for protecting your home and belongings and is a key “ingredient” for home comfort and health. Finding just the right humidity balance for your home may take a little experimentation, but here are some suggestions for finding the right solution for you and your family this summer.
It’s a common myth that mold and mildew need liquid water, damp, or moisture to grow. Actually, high humidity in the air is all that’s needed for those microscopic critters to thrive. To keep that from happening, we recommend maintaining a humidity level of 60% or less year-round. This will also protect your wood furnishings from absorbing moisture and swelling or books from softening and degrading.
While that 60% humidity mark will protect your furnishings and help keep your family healthy and comfortable, lowering humidity, even more, can actually provide an equal amount of comfort at even higher temperatures. Here’s why. When we’re warm, we perspire. Even barely noticeable amounts of moisture on our skin evaporate, absorbing heat from our skin and keeping us cool. The drier the air, the faster the process, and the cooler we feel. On the other hand, high humidity slows the process down so we warm up even more, producing more moisture, causing that unpleasant “sticky” feeling. Most bodies are quite comfortable even at 78 or 80 degrees Fahrenheit if the humidity is super low (think Arizona). But in relatively cool air, say 68 degrees Fahrenheit, with a high humidity, we can feel uncomfortable. Humidity is the key. So if you keep an indoor humidity level of 45% or 50%, you can have a higher indoor temperature and still feel comfy cool. And that means savings on AC energy costs. It’s a good formula to keep in mind.