As temperatures finally begin to drop in East Tennessee for the fall and winter seasons, we lose more than just the leaves from the trees. Our homes, facing colder temperatures, will also lose the amount of water vapor in the air, often referred to as the humidity. While humidity can cause summertime to feel less than bearable, having an optimal humidity range in your home not only creates a more comfortable environment for you and your family but can also have health benefits, in addition to protecting your home or office from damage.
Humidity During Fall and Winter
Warm air can hold much more moisture than cold air. As the temperature drops outside (and subsequently inside), water cannot exist as easily in the air in its vapor form. Thus, cold air is dry air. You may hear humidity expressed in terms of relative humidity, which is a measurement of water vapor in the air relative to the air temperature. Given as a percentage of the total amount of water vapor that could be held at the current temperature, we use relative humidity because it affects how we feel warm and cold. Let’s dive further into three reasons why raising your home’s humidity during the fall and winter is so important.
Reducing Electrostatic Shock
Does moving your blanket look like you set off a set of firecrackers in your bedroom during the wintertime? You can thank the lower humidity levels in your home for that. Static electricity increases in dry air as electrons collect in pockets. This build-up of free electrons is compounded by the fact that warming up cold air as we do with our heating units in the fall and winter doesn’t add moisture to the atmosphere. It makes the air even drier and ensures a swift crackle of lightning every time you pet your cat or touch a doorknob. When you introduce moisture back into your air by raising your home humidity, you give bunched-up electrons a place to go and remove some of the “shock factors” from low humidity.
Prevent Damage to Your Home from Humidity
Low humidity caused by colder temperatures can also severely damage your home’s interior in several ways. Most of us are aware that changing temperatures cause our homes to expand in the summer and contract in the winter. This constant flux can put a massive strain on your furniture as well as the building material of your home. For example, low humidity in your home, caused by lower temperatures, can cause wooden floorboards to bend and gaps to form between the planks. Contracting wood in furniture and musical instruments can cause cracks or joints to fail. Lower humidity can also cause drywall and wallpaper to separate or cause cracks to form in your home’s walls. Have art, books, or even a stamp collection in your home? If your humidity is too low it can cause paper to become brittle, discolor, or even begin cracking.
Health Benefits to Having the Right Humidity Levels
With cold weather approaching, many of us will run out and get flu shots and break out the hand sanitizer to avoid the usual onslaught of illness such as colds that come along with cooler temperatures. Controlling the humidity levels in your home during the fall and winter can also help keep you and your family healthy. With dryer environments due to the lack of water vapor in the air, our membranes are more likely to become dried out. This drying out of the sinuses is sometimes coupled with a cracking of sinus membranes, which offers viruses a direct path to enter the body. Dry air is also known to aggravate respiratory issues, as well as cause feelings of nasal congestion due to “nasal cooling.” When you increase the humidity in your home during fall and winter to the correct comfort range, your eyes and skin will both thank you too. Low humidity can cause your eyes to dry out, depriving them of their protective tear film. The lower humidity can also cause your skin to become dry, scaly, or itchy during the colder months due to the lack of moisture in your skin.
High Indoor Humidity in Winter
Having higher than 50% to 60% humidity in your home during cold months should also be avoided as this situation can have additional unwanted effects. High humidity can not only make you feel “sticky” or uncomfortable but can also aid mold and bacteria growth in your home. It can also create stuffy noses for you and your family. If you notice the moisture building on your windowpanes during the fall or winter, this is a strong signal that your humidity may be too high.
Best Humidity During Fall and Winter
Finding the best humidity level for your home depends on several factors, including:
- The climate zone in which you live
- Your building’s insulation and air barriers
- Your building’s ventilation
- Amount of moisture created in your home
Generally, somewhere in the 30% to 50% range is understood to be the comfort range of relative humidity for roughly 80% of people.
Signs to look for that your Humidity is too Low
Some of the signs of low humidity in your home can be difficult to diagnose, but if you notice you and your family are suffering from dry, itchy skin, or are more susceptible to illness, these could be strong signals. You might also notice cracking of wood or wood that is nailed or glued together coming apart. The simplest way to measure the humidity in your home is to purchase a small, inexpensive hygrometer. Even if you are planning to buy a humidifier that has a built-in hygrometer or humidistat, they are often not very accurate due to their proximity to the humidifier itself. So, you’ve found out that the humidity in your home is below the 20-30% threshold for comfortable air, now what? Let’s next look at some of the ways you can increase the humidity in your home.
How to Increase Humidity in Your Home
There are several methods that can be employed to increase the humidity in your home.
Register Your Bowls
One popular DIY method of creating more humidity is to place bowls of water on top of your HVAC floor registers. If your registers are in a wall or on the ceiling, you can place a bowl of water on a sunny windowsill. In either location, the water should evaporate slowly into the air over the course of a week or two.
Tap Into Your Dryer Power
Another method people sometimes use to increase humidity and cut down on heating costs is to install an indoor vent kit onto the back of your dryer. These easy to install kits run an aluminum duct from the back of your dryer into your home, pumping both moisture and heat into the laundry room and throughout the house.
Rinse, Boil, and Repeat
There are other ways to increase your home’s humidity, including leaving your bathroom door cracked when showering, using a teapot instead of an instant coffee maker, or by simply boiling water on your stove. Each of these tactics will increase the humidity by introducing water vapor into your home’s air.
Add Some Green
Adding green plants into your home can increase your humidity in the home slightly. Through transpiration, house plants continuously release moisture into the air. House plants also have a bonus of naturally cleaning the air you breathe in your home.
The Ole Humidifier
The most straightforward approach to increasing humidity in your home is to purchase a humidifier from your local home improvement store, department store, or online. Humidifiers come in many different varieties, including steam humidifiers, which are installed on a supply duct or return duct and produce a large amount of humidity throughout your entire house. Fan-powered humidifiers are also installed on a supply duct, only they provide significantly less moisture than the steam humidifiers. Bypass humidifiers are another type of whole-home, duct-installed humidifier that uses a water line and drains to cycle water and eliminate any of the excess. Bypass humidifiers are an excellent solution when fan-powered humidifiers do not fit your existing ductwork, or if you want less humidity than the amount produced by steam or fan-powered humidifiers. The most common humidifier for most people is a free-standing room humidifier. It uses a reservoir of distilled water to produce water vapor in a small area of your home. If you’re interested in researching humidifiers, stay tuned for our future article, “Top 10 best humidifiers for 2019”.
Contact a Knoxville HVAC Company
Keeping an eye on your humidity is important in all seasons but keeping it at the right level during fall and winter will keep you healthy, save your property from damage, and eliminate annoying electrostatic build-up in your home. An HVAC technician can help you assess the humidity in your home, suggest the proper solutions, and even install a whole-home humidifier. Click the link to find out how you can increase the humidity in your home, or call us at (865) 938-1005.