How to Manage Humidity in Your Home

the corner of a window where water droplets have collectedHumidity refers to the water vapor levels in the air. The humidity levels vary depending on such factors as the season, where you live, and the weather. When talking about the humidity levels in your home, you are referring to the relative humidity. Relative humidity refers to the current water vapor levels within your home in relation to how much moisture the air can hold. This means that a home with 100% relative humidity is bound to be quite uncomfortable and sticky. Likewise, a home with a relative humidity of 10% will be unlivable. Maintaining optimum humidity levels within your home is imperative for comfy living.

Healthy Humidity Levels in the Home

Ideally, a home’s humidity levels should range from 35% to 55%. Activities such as dishwashing, bathing, drying clothes, and cooking add moisture to your home’s indoor air. Heating appliances such as kerosene or unvented natural gas models also lead to increased moisture within the home. Older homes might not be equipped with appropriate ventilation and insulation systems making them less energy-efficient and susceptible to excess moisture.

Knowing that there are abnormally high humidity levels within your home is not always easy. Common signs that your home has high relative humidity levels include:

  • A musty odor
  • Condensation on doors and windows
  • Signs of mold growth on your walls, ceiling, or inside closets or cupboards
  • Wood rot or cupping wood floors
  • Stains on your roof and walls
  •  Blistering or peeling paint

The EPA recommends the use of hygrometers and dehumidifiers to monitor and maintain your home’s humidity levels. You can choose from digital, whirling, or mason hygrometers, and misting fans can sometimes be used to increase the humidity in your home alongside humidifiers. You can also check to see whether the thermostat in your home shows the humidity levels.

The Importance of Proper Indoor Humidity

Indoor air quality is a critical factor when it comes to how breathable the air within your home is. Most homeowners attribute poor indoor air quality to factors such as dust, pollen, and other contaminants and ignore the role poor humidity plays.

A dry indoor environment is the leading cause of sore eyes, sore throats, headaches, skin irritation, and respiratory issues. On the other hand, signs of over-humidification of your indoor space include air that feels damp, a musty smell in your basement or bathroom, and condensation on your windows.

While your family’s health is the first concern when it comes to poor indoor humidity, it also has an adverse effect on your property. When the relative humidity is excessively high, condensation builds up on windows and walls which could lead to extensive structural damage. This could manifest in various ways such as wood decay, degrading furniture, molds, and moist or damp spots.

High moisture levels between the ceiling and your wall may also cause extensive damage to your property. Paint may begin to peel off as well as permanent wood warping or rotting. The excess moisture can also seep between your home’s weather stripping and window molding. This causes them to expand or freeze, depending on the temperature outside. Ultimately, this causes extensive damage to your windows. 

Effects of Humidity on Your Home

Humidity doens’t just affect how the air in a home feels; it can also cause changes in the home itself. Here are some effects that high humidity can cause.

Mold Growth

dots of black mold covering a white wallHumid environments are a perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew. These contaminants can form on your flooring or walls, spread quickly, and compromise your home’s structural integrity. Prolonged exposure to a moldy environment could lead to such health complications as coughing and wheezing, nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, eye irritation, and more. Molds can also aggravate asthma symptoms and other respiratory issues for those who suffer from such.

Musty Odors

If there is a persistent mustiness in your home, it might be as a result of excess moisture. When the humidity levels are unusually high, your HVAC has to work extra hard to control it. In some cases, undersize or older units cannot keep up with the high moisture levels. This results in a damp feeling, which causes a musty odor. In most cases, this precedes mold and mildew growth.

Water Damage Stains

Discoloration, texture changes, and staining are as a result of moisture damage. The stains may appear as dark or black streaks that might not necessarily feel wet.

Rotting Wood

Since wood is porous, it is prone to absorbing and desorbing of moisture as the humidity levels fluctuate. This results in the swelling and shrinking of the wood with every change. In the end, this will take a toll on the wood within your home. This causes warped planks, gaps between planks, and cupping corners on hardwood floors. In extreme cases, excessive moisture leads to wood rot.

a man sneezing into a tissueIncreased Allergens

Too much moisture in the air leads to an increase in allergens or irritants, which include mold and mildew, dust, bacteria, and mite. Dust mites are particularly a serious problem in high-humidity areas

Effects of Humidity on Your Health

To better understand the effects that humidity levels have on our bodies, we need to understand how our bodies regulate the internal temperature. When our bodies heat up, the pores on the skin surface open up, and we release sweat. Once the sweat evaporates from the skin surface, our bodies cool off.

When the humidity levels are unusually high, the sweat does not evaporate. This leaves our bodies feeling hot and sticky. Our bodies have to work extra hard by increasing the rate of blood circulation, respiration, and perspiration. Too much sweating could lead to the loss of water and chemicals which our bodies need to function optimally. This potentially jeopardizes our health.

Overexposure to high humidity levels could lead to health complications hyperthermia whose symptoms include:

  • Dehydration
  • Heat exhaustion or fatigue
  • Heatstroke
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Muscle cramps

Common Humidity Problem Locations in Your Home

While high humidity levels can affect any part of your house, some parts are more prone to this than others. These include:

Attics

Moisture problems in your attic happen when warm air from the heated part of your home escapes to an unheated attic. The humid air escapes around penetrations made for such items as vent pipes, light fixtures, fans, and so on. The warm air condenses on the attic’s sheathing, causing frost and moisture problems.

Bathrooms

water and steam collected on a piece of glass in a bathroomBathrooms are perhaps your home’s most humid places. This is why the problems such as dislodged tiles, mold and mildew, grout, water stains, rotting walls, and wet insulation are a common phenomenon in bathrooms. The hotter your showers, the more the humidity in your bathroom.

Heating and Cooling Units

The air your air conditioning unit sucks from the outdoors has dirt and other contaminants. This is why machines that sit for so long without use are likely to have mold spores. You can prevent this by running your HVAC for a short when it’s normally not in use. Also, have a professional inspect and clean it every once in a while.

Chimneys

Depending on whether your chimney is capped or not, it might take in lots of water from snow and rain. The heat that goes up in the chimney is usually cooled by cold air. This leads to the formation of an acidic substance that can lead to masonry damage and rust.

Kitchens

Although the kitchen is the heart of most families, the delicious meals that come from this part of your home introduces excess humidity into your indoor air. You can reduce the humidity levels in your kitchen by installing a vent that draws off moisture emanating from sautéing, boiling, or simmering food.

Laundry Rooms

Your laundry washing machine is an obvious culprit when it comes to high humidity levels in your home. Without proper ventilation, the warm, humid air only builds up. This is especially true for older homes whose laundry rooms are located in the basement.

Basements

Porous basement floors might be absorbing water from the ground. Using a dehumidifier is a quick fix to this problem. If your basement is constantly damp, you are better off insulating or waterproofing your basement.

Reducing Humidity with Fans

Fans help increase the airflow within your home. This helps any excess moisture evaporate. Ceiling fans are particularly handy in rooms that feel stuffier than the rest of the home. Whole-room fans will work best to dry out a room, but any fan will do a good job of distributing the cooled air which your heating and air conditioning units generate. You can use fans within your home by doing the following:

Turn on Ceiling Fans

a girl turning on a ceiling fan with a remote controlCeiling fans are a simple and inexpensive way of reducing the humidity levels within your home. Remote control ceiling fans are easy to install in living rooms, bedrooms, and dining rooms. Apart from helping in the evaporation of excess moisture, ceiling fans promote the air circulation within your home.

Set the fan so that the blades run in an anti-clockwise direction when the weather is warm. This helps circulate the cool air downwards. During the cold weather, set it so that the blades rotate in a clockwise direction to help circulate warm air within your home. 

Use Window Fans

Window fans are an economical and energy-efficient option for cooling your home. You can use them to supplement your air conditioning unit. Installing window fans could make a big difference in your heating and cooling costs by reducing your reliance on the air conditioner. Double or single window fans do a great job of blowing cool air into your home or blowing out warm stuffy air. In some instances, double window fans do this at the same time.

The way you place the window fan also determines how well the unit operates. For example, you can strategically position one window fan in a way that it pulls in cold air and the other in a way that it pushes out warm stale air.  

Use Portable Fans for Problem Areas

Some parts of your home might be stuffy while others are not. Should you notice poor air quality or lack of air circulation in some parts of your home, it’s time to invest in a small, compact, portable fan. These are lightweight, and most of them feature an adjustable stand. They also occupy very little space. Some examples of portable fans include desk fans, pedestal fans, box fans, battery fans and tower fans. If you have an oscillating fan, that fan can cover a large area at once.

Don’t Rely Solely on Air Conditioning

While you can use an air conditioning unit to keep your home cool, it has quite a number of downsides. For instance, it uses more energy, which implies higher utility bills. Also, it is impossible to focus the unit on a single spot. Some other ways through which you can cool the air within your home include:

Keep Your Curtains or Blinds Drawn

a hand closing blinds on a sunny dayDuring the times of the day when the weather gets particularly hot and humid, drop the blinds or draw the curtains. This helps block the sunlight from your interior space. Keep in mind that this works only in rooms where temperatures do not spike. Warmer rooms might need a different approach altogether.  

Install Window Tints

Installing window tints or films that are specifically designed to block out heat is an ideal way of blocking out excess heat. You could also install window tints and draw the curtains to achieve a higher cooling effect.

Make Sure Your Home Has Proper Insulation

Your doors and windows are not the only places that allow heat to get into your home. Other parts including the roof, the walls, and the floor could be absorbing heat. This makes your cooling unit work extra hard to cool the air within your home. Having proper insulation helps keep cool air in and hot air out. It also keeps your home’s heating costs low by locking in the warm air during the cold season.

Other Ways to Reduce Humidity

Other ways through which you might effectively reduce the humidity levels within your home include:

Dehumidifiers

Dehumidifiers remove excess moisture from the air. In most cases, dehumidifiers are placed in bathrooms, basements, or any other area within the home that requires moisture removal.

Change AC Filters

You need to clean your air conditioning unit or your furnace regularly. This will help you know when the filters are clogged. Clogged filters slow down the flow of air, which causes your unit to be inefficient.

Dry Clothes Outside

Hanging your wet clothes indoors only increases your home’s humidity levels, particularly in rooms with bad ventilation. Where hanging clothes outside is not an option, use a clothes dryers whose vents are on the outside.

While all these are effective, use them as a way of supplementing the fans rather than replacing them.

Conclusion

a white dehumidifier sitting on the floor beside a sofaControlling the humidity levels within your home helps preserve it as well as its contents. It also keeps your indoor environment healthy. As modern homes are constructed to the highest energy-efficient standards, they are tightly insulated. This means that trapped humidity can rise to extreme levels leading to such problems as warping or rotting of wooden structures, peeling paint, and the growth of toxic mold. If you are concerned about maintaining your home’s humidity levels, consult a licensed building analyst or a licensed contractor.