Does Your Home Have the Proper Humidity Level?

Humidity is important to our homes and our health; therefore, it is important to maintain the proper humidity levels. Inadequate humidification during cold weather is one of the major causes of respiratory infections. The heating season causes many people to experience repeated attacks of winter colds. Winter is blamed for these problems, but the actual cause is dryness, which affects the membranes of the nose, throat and bronchial tubes.

Relative humidity has a significant effect on controlling the occurrence of airborne infections. Adequate moisture enables the body’s immune system to better defend itself against indoor respiratory pollutants and irritants.

Relative humidity is a measure of the moisture content in the air as a % of the total amount of moisture air is capable of holding. For instance, a relative humidity of 40% means the air is holding 40% of the total moisture it can hold.

There are natural sources of moisture in the home. It is estimated that the average family of four produces four to six gallons of water a day through breathing, showering, cooking and laundering. Although four to six gallons seems like a lot, in most cases it’s not nearly enough.

Health institutions recommend that your home’s relative humidity should be kept between 30% and 50% during the winter. Lower levels aggravate skin allergies and respiratory infections, and higher levels increase the spread of mold bacteria and viruses. Dust mites spread when the humidity is above 50%. Experts at the Association of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers in Atlanta say medical studies indicate that maintaining your home’s humidity in this optimum zone inhibits the survival of many viruses, including influenza.

Adding a whole house humidifier to your home will help maintain higher levels of moisture in your home and that will counter all the problems associated with low humidity levels.

The whole house humidifier is integrated into the blower system on your furnace, drawing water directly from your water supply. There are a few different types on the market, including a sprayer that injects mist into the airflow inside the ductwork and a foam cylinder that rotates in a water tray, with air blowing through and around it. The whole house system’s greatest advantage is that it is low maintenance and keeps the entire home at a set humidity with just a one-time setup. It’s virtually soundless, and cost pennies per year to operate.

Portable units are freestanding, usually on wheels, and have their own water supply. They plug into standard outlets and usually are powerful enough to humidify one to two rooms; however, larger units are available that will keep several rooms comfortable.

Maintenance is the biggest pitfall of portable units; the reservoir must be cleaned often, as standing water is bacteria’s playground, spewing germs into the indoor air.  Mayo Clinic recommends the following steps for the safe use of a portable humidifier:

  • Don’t fill the humidifier with tap water; use distilled or de-mineralized water instead.
  • Empty the reservoir daily and fill it with fresh water.
  • Clean the unit thoroughly every three days.
  • Replace the filter at least as often as the manufacturer recommends.
  • Watch for dampness around the unit which indicates that it is turned up too high and may be creating conditions for mold and bacteria to thrive.

Keep in mind that you won’t have to use your humidifier during the summer months when fresh air circulates through your home and keeps the air naturally moist.  During the summer you should turn the humidifier off and clean it as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

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