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Did you know the dampness inside your home can negatively affect both your comfort and your health? High humidity levels aren’t the only problem, though. Every time your heat kicks on this winter, you’re drying out your indoor air — and that comes with its own issues. So let’s find the happy medium for home humidity — and learn how to maintain it, in every season.

Humidity and Indoor Air Quality

Let’s start with the most important connection between you and your home’s humidity: your health. The humidity levels in your home affect a whole host of health conditions, including asthma, allergies, and respiratory infections. If humidity regularly condenses on surfaces in your home — windowsills, walls, even on the insulation between your walls — you’re inviting mold to move in with you. That degrades your indoor air quality (IAQ), and it could damage your home.

On the flip side, when the humidity levels are too low, you might feel dried out, with itchy skin, chapped lips, dry eyes, and headaches. Depleting your body’s moisture means drying out your nose and throat, too, and that can make you more susceptible to contracting viral infections.

Researchers continue to explore the relationship between extremely low or high humidity levels and various health conditions. Of particular focus right now, of course, is how it affects the spread of viruses like COVID-19 that are transmitted by aerosols — tiny particles that have attached to specks of liquid in the air.

In addition to your health, your comfort also takes a hit when humidity levels get too high or low. If your home is too dry in winter, you may feel colder…which might motivate you to turn your heat higher…which dries your air out further. And watch out for static electricity! Low humidity means more chances to get shocked.

Related Post: Colds and Flu and Your IAQ

Damp or Dry: Factors in Your Home’s Humidity Levels

It’s easy to guess at least a few sources of humidity in your home: long, hot showers; laundry; cooking; and any leaks in your roof or around windows where rain can enter. Kevin Kennedy, a nationally recognized expert on healthy homes, says moisture often enters the home through the basement or crawlspace, where conditioned indoor air meets outside elements. And both humid summer breezes and dry winter gusts commonly sneak inside through gaps around doors, windows, and plumbing.

Your heating, cooling, and ventilation (HVAC) system also plays a role in your home’s humidity. The more you run your heating or cooling, the drier your air will be. Depending on your climate, that might be somewhat helpful in summer, but in winter, it can be a problem. On the other hand, if your HVAC is old or in need of routine maintenance, it may not remove humidity from the air like it should. Poor ventilation — not bringing in enough fresh air — can also cause humidity to become trapped in your home.

Measuring Your Home’s Humidity

Measuring relative humidity is the best way to understand how to improve your home. Relative humidity compares the actual amount of water vapor in the air to the maximum amount of vapor the air could hold at a specific temperature. (Warmer air can hold more moisture.)

Ideally, your home’s relative humidity is between 30% and 60%. That means that at any given temperature, the air is holding 30%-60% of the maximum possible water vapor. (Some experts, like those representing the Mayo Clinic, favor the lower end of this range. Others suggest that the higher end of the range might be better for fighting off viral infections.)

All you need to get started is a cheap temperature plus humidity gauge. Leave it in each room over a few days, and as you measure, notice whether any relative humidity levels within the ideal range feel more comfortable to you and your family. Repeat the process each season to find out where — and when — your problem spots are.

Combat Low Humidity

Let’s say a few rooms of your home are constantly under 30% humidity this winter. One simple and effective solution is a room humidifier. As the Mayo Clinic explains, these work in a few different ways, with two of the most common being evaporative (they blow air through a wet filter, wick, or belt) and ultrasonic (they produce a cool mist using ultrasonic vibration). Make sure you don’t over-humidify your rooms or let the humidifier water or filters get dirty — otherwise, you can start experiencing the issues of too much humidity.

If your whole home is chronically dry, there are also whole-home humidifiers, which can be freestanding or installed within your HVAC system. They work in a few different ways, but the outcome is the same: greater comfort and peace of mind knowing you’re helping protect your family’s health.

Reduce High Humidity

Let’s say your bathrooms and kitchen stay at 70% relative humidity. The first thing to do is evaluate your own habits. Do you take steamy showers without running the vent? How long do you leave the vent on? Do you run the exhaust fan over your stove when cooking? Kennedy explains that these vents have the greatest impact if you start them up a few minutes before showering or cooking to establish an airflow, and then leave them running for 20-30 minutes after you finish to effectively promote evaporation.

Your next steps are a little bigger, but still simple. Have an HVAC professional conduct routine maintenance of your system to ensure it can properly remove humidity from indoor air. (Log in to the free Green Door app to identify a qualified elite Pearl Network Contractor in your area.). If your gauge still shows high humidity in certain rooms, purchase a portable room dehumidifier — there are many affordable and ENERGY STAR®-certified options.

What if most of your home is chronically damp? It’s time to consider more comprehensive upgrades, such as installing a whole-home dehumidifier in your air ducts. Or consider an energy-efficient mechanical ventilation system, such as energy recovery ventilation (ERV), which pumps in the right amount of fresh, outside air and pumps out humid or stale indoor air.

Next Step: Call in the Pros

Don’t suffer through another season of dried-out skin, chapped lips, or easily transmitted illnesses. There are concrete steps you can take, starting today — when you sign up for Pearl Certification’s Green Door app.

There, you can create a Home Investment Plan that takes your IAQ goals into consideration. It’s a simple way to keep track of what will serve your family well. You can also connect with contractors — ones we’ve already vetted — who will guide you in making the right improvements to boost your family’s comfort and protect your health. Get started on the road to a healthier home today.

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