It’s the dog days of August when even cooler temperatures can feel hot, sticky and uncomfortable. That’s because there are actually two kinds of heat – sensible heat, which is the temperature that registers on your home’s thermostat, and latent heat, which results from the amount of moisture in the air.
The difference matters, because what the thermostat says may be quite different from how you feel. A reading of 75 degrees Fahrenheit sounds pretty comfortable, but humidity may make it feel more like 80 or higher.
High humidity can be bad for your health, but there are other things that humidity will affect that may not be as obvious. Here are five common things right in your home or office that can be damaged by humidity. See if any of these surprise you, then stick around for a few tips at the end to help manage humidity in your home or place of business.
Summer rolls around and suddenly your front door starts to stick. Your sliding patio door gets stubborn the minute you decide to get out and do some back yard grilling. Your closet doors stick so much that the paint starts to peel off the edges of the door and jamb, adding yet another home improvement project to your list.
You’re probably familiar with sticking doors, and the problem is usually not the door – it’s the humidity. Moisture is absorbed by the wood, making doors and their surrounding frame swell. That can cause all sorts of problems, from a wrecked paint job to damaged doors, woodworking and hinges.
If you’re not familiar with the effects of humidity on doors, you may be tempted to shave off an edge here and there to compensate, assuming the door has just become misaligned or even that the swelling effect is permanent. But come winter when humidity is typically low – sometimes too low – doors will contract again, leaving you with uneven and misaligned edges.
They’re not cheap, but whether you’ve installed them yourself with a few supplies from your local home improvement store, or invested tens of thousands of dollars in the most exotic woods, humidity is their enemy.
As with doors, the wood absorbs moisture and expands. That causes the floor boards to warp, resulting in an uneven surface as the edges of the boards push upwards, creating ridges and cups. Worse, floors can buckle, meaning that the wood pulls away from the subfloor entirely.
Moisture may eventually dry up and the boards return to normal, but prolonged humidity – an entire summer, for example – can cause the boards to crack and result in permanent damage. The effect can be magnified in homes near the shore, where moisture combined with salt in the air wreaks havoc with both structural integrity and surface appearance.
After reading about doors and floors, this should come as no surprise. Crown molding absorbs moisture just as any other wood, expanding in high humidity, and contracting in low. With too much moisture, joints push against each other and begin to warp, buckle and crack.
No amount of finishing nails will help when humidity is the culprit, so nix this home improvement project until you get the humidity under control.
Worse, excessive and prolonged humidity can cause other problems: namely, mold. It may not happen immediately, but left neglected, mold and fungus can begin to develop on and even behind surfaces, especially in basements that may already suffer from excessive moisture. Once mold takes root along woodworking and gets into sheetrock, it can be harmful to your health and difficult to remove without professional attention.
Think your Middle C is starting to sound more like a D Flat? You’re not going tone deaf –humidity may be to blame. In high humidity, your piano’s sound board can swell, putting excess pressure on the strings and changing the pitch. In fact, just about every part of a piano can swell, from the wood components to the felt and leather parts that the regulate friction that affects sound. Even metal parts like strings and tuning pins can begin to rust in high humidity.
Pianos aren’t the only instrument to suffer. Humidity can wreck your prized guitar, too. The wood can swell quite a bit, causing glue joints to fail, necks to warp and finishes to peel. Distortions in the wood can be difficult to impossible to repair.
Love your violin? It will share the fate of the guitar if it’s kept in a humid home. Saxophone and clarinet reeds also suffer warping from humidity. In short, anything that has a wood, felt or similar part that can absorb moisture will be affected in quality of sound and condition of the instrument.
Excess moisture is cited as the number one reason for electronics failure. It can result in condensation on internal components and corrode contacts, leading to short circuits. Condensation combined with the dust that often collects on electronics can clog vents and cause overheating.
Humidity can even cause computers to short circuit, resulting in damage to components and data loss.
Beyond wrecking your sound system or laptop, humidity will also affect your printers. Inkjet printers, which work by spraying liquid ink onto paper, will produce blurry or smudged results. Laser printers may fare even worse, producing wrinkled pages or resulting in the ink failing to “stick” to the paper in the first place.
The effect of humidity on paper is the real problem here. Paper absorbs moisture, which means uneven printing, ink that doesn’t dry properly, and even paper jams.
That’s right, cookies – chocolate chip, oatmeal or Snickerdoodle. In fact, anything that you can bake, from cakes to cookies, bread and pie, will be affected by humidity.
Dry ingredients like flour, salt and baking soda soak up moisture. When that moisture comes from milk and eggs, your recipe will turn out fine. But when too much of it comes from the air, it will end up in your batter and completely change the baking time. Cookies that turn out perfectly on a cool fall day may be a mush of half-raw dough on a humid one.
You can usually compensate for humidity by adjusting the baking time but in the meantime you’re likely to end up with a whole lot of trashed experiments and no dessert.
How To Deal With High Humidity In Your Home Or Office
You can always move to Arizona, but if you’re partial to your New Jersey home, then you can take some steps to deal with summer humidity.
Perhaps most importantly, keep your air conditioning running. It may be tempting to open windows on a cooler day, but if it’s also humid then all you’ll ever do is play catch-up with the latent heat. When you turn your air conditioner on again to cool your home, the first thing it has to do is pull the moisture out of carpets, furniture and even sheetrock before it can really begin to drop the temperature.
Check the size of your air conditioning unit. It should be appropriately sized to suit your home. If you’re installing a new system, you may be tempted to go big, thinking that the larger the unit, the more powerful and better at cooling. While bigger units may cool faster, they’ll also shut down more often, which means they won’t run consistently enough to remove moisture from the air.
Finally, if you’re constantly battling humidity, and especially if you have allergies or asthma, then consider installing a whole house dehumidifier. They can improve air quality and actually extend the life of your air conditioner, protecting your investment, your health, your home, and your rhubarb pie.
If you’re tired of wiping your brow, contact us for a free consultation and estimate for replacing an inadequate air conditioner or installing a dehumidifier. We’re available to answer your questions and help you be more comfortable in your home or workplace.