Humidity can be a problem any time of year. It gets on our nerves during summer when everything feels heavy and damp. And it disappears during winter when we need it to sooth our dry skin and parched sinuses the most.
Maintaining a proper humidity level in your home is important – for your health, and for your comfort – but what exactly is that level? How do you know when you’ve achieved it? And most importantly, what can you do when it’s anything but “ideal”?
Let’s take a look at humidity and how it can affect you, and answer some of the nagging questions everyone has during the long, dry days of winter.
Why Does Humidity Drop So Much During Winter?
You’d think a desert would be drier, but as it turns out, winters right here in New Jersey can be worse inside your own home. That’s because cold air holds less moisture than warm air. It’s basic earth science, and you can’t argue with that!
Even on a humid winter day, the air is naturally drier than it would otherwise be on a warm day. And that air is getting into your home whether you invite it or not. Every time you open a door you’re likely dropping the humidity of your home. Every crack and crevice where air escapes, every poorly insulated duct, even your attic or crawl space, are vectors for warm, most air escaping and cool, dry air entering.
Now, before you decide to mummify your house in plastic wrap, we should mention that air exchange is a _good_ thing. Not too much, of course – you certainly don’t want to be losing half your heating budget to poor insulation. But you don’t want to be locked up with air that’s full of potential dangers, from germs to chemicals and pollutants.
Fresh air is a good thing! But cold, fresh air can certainly wreck have with your indoor humidity levels.
To make matters worse, your forced air furnace is blowing warm, dry air throughout your home, sucking up whatever moisture is left and leaving little for you.
Side Effects Of Low Winter Humidity
Anyone who has spent a single cold winter in the northeast is familiar with the dry, itchy skin, dry eyes, scratchy throats and even the occasional bloody nose. Too-dry air can do a number on your body, but it can also be hard on your health.
Dry air can exacerbate allergies and asthma. It can make it easier for viruses and germs to spread, increasing your risk of colds and flus.
It can be rough on your wallet, too. Dry air feels cooler, which will make you prone to turning up the thermostat.
And it’s not so great for your furniture, either! Wood may dry out, crack and warp, especially as the humidity shifts dramatically from season to season. Hardwood floors can separate and crack, only to buckle later when humidity increases again. And electronic devices can suffer the effects of static electricity, or dust that becomes easily airborne without moisture to anchor it.
So What SHOULD The Indoor Humidity Be During Winter?
Generally speaking, the ideal indoor humidity level should be between 30% and 50%. Take a look at your thermostat if it has a humidity reading – unless you’re actively increasing the humidity level, we bet it’s somewhere in the teens!
If you don’t know what the humidity level is in your home but you’re pretty sure it’s not comfortable and healthy, consider investing in an inexpensive hygrometer. It won’t solve the problem, but information is power. Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can begin to make a plan for improving it.
Simple Hacks To Elevate Humidity Levels
If you turn into a raisin every winter, it might be time to take action! First we’ve got a few everyday things you can do to add (or keep!) a little more moisture in the air.
Start be ensuring that your home is properly sealed. If you’ve got noticeably drafty windows or doors, sealing them up or replacing them with better versions can help. Make sure your ducts aren’t damaged or leaking. You may need the help of a professional for this, but it’s worth noting whether faulty or old ducts are responsible for some of your humidity and heating woes.
Consider wearing a sweater instead of raising the heat. The more you run your central heating unit, the more moisture gets pulled from the air. While you’re at it, wash your hair at night and skip the blow dryer. The last thing you need is more dry air!
Doing the laundry? Hang clothes instead of putting them in the dryer. Yes, this one might look a little weird on a Zoom call, but if you have the space and can swing it, let all that moist goodness evaporate into the air.
If you can squeeze in a shower without an audience of kids and dogs, leave the bathroom door open – or open it immediately afterwards. The warm air and steam can help balance out some of the dry.
Finally, just add water – anywhere you can! Fill up a shelf with houseplants that have an inch or so of pebbles in a saucer, then add water to keep the plants – and you – a little healthier. Or throw some cinnamon or cloves into a pot on the stove and boil away for some aromatherapy with your humidity.
Combating Low Humidity – For Good
If the little tricks work for you, great! But the effects are typically localized and temporary. The minute you walk outside, an entire day’s worth of boiling cinnamon water has literally gone out the door with you.
You can try a portable, single room humidifier, but the results will be similar. These relatively small units can be good in a bedroom or home office for localized relief, but won’t help elsewhere. They also come with a cost – in energy bills, in filter changes, and in the maintenance required to keep them free of mold, grime and scales.
For the most consistent and effective humidity control, consider adding a whole house humidifier. These unobtrusive units are installed directly onto your HVAC system where they help regulate humidity throughout your entire home.
Where other humidification methods aim to add moisture to the air in your room, a whole house humidifier adds moisture to the air before it ever enters the room.
Digital controls make it easy to adjust – and maintain – the humidity level. Programmable units give you control over how you manage your home’s humidity, and units with an accompnaying smart phone app make it simple to adjust humidity on the fly – when you leave the house for a few days, or are returning from a trip, for example.
Since they work directly with your heating system, you never have to remember to turn them on and you don’t have to worry about emptying them out. Annual maintenance by your HVAC contractor is enough to keep them working and in top shape.
Perhaps most significantly, they will distribute moisture evenly throughout your home. You don’t need to add a unit for each room (as you might with a portable unit) and you never have to worry that opening the door to the bedroom, for example, will let all of your comfortable air escape into the dry hallway desert beyond.
As an added bonus, you don’t have to look at another appliance or trip over yet another power cord! And there’s no additional noise, because let’s face it, even the quietest portable units can get on your nerves after a while.
In short, a whole house humidifier not only combats low winter humidity, but it avoids some of the negative side effects of other options. It’s silent, cost effective, out of sight, easy to manage, simple to use, and something you can “set and forget” for the better part of winter.
If you’re tired of fighting with dry winter air and the discomfort and ill effects it brings, contact us for a free estimate to install a whole house humidifier. We’re here to answer questions and to make sure that your comfort – and health – come first.