Please note that the
following article dealing with the lack of indoor humidity in the
heating season is geared toward homes and businesses who uses forced
air heating systems.
03.15.10. by Sylvain Côté.
High humidity will make a nice summer day feel much warmer than it is actually is. But the heat index, a term we hear only in the summer months, may perhaps be even more useful in the winter.
In the summer, the higher humidity finds its way inside your home, and often in a higher concentration inside your basement that results in an unpleasant odor. However, that smell is also a kind of welcomed warning that mold and bacteria could be present. Such knowledge empowers you to take steps to control and eliminate this potential health hazard.
To the surprise of many, including myself, a lack of humidity in our homes during the winter is just as bad, if not worse. Consider the following serious consequences:
CO, or carbon monoxide, is nicknamed “The Silent Killer”. Since it is colorless, odorless and tasteless, every year hundreds of unsuspecting people fall victim to this sneaky killer within minutes after sharing the same room. A lack of H²O in your household is obviously not as lethal as too much CO, not in the short term anyway, but both uninvited guests, nevertheless, share similarities in being colorless, odorless and tasteless.
In the same manner, too much humidity and not enough humidity share a practically unknown similarity: they are both the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and viruses not only to exist, but to thrive. Allergies, asthma and respiratory infections need to be added to that list, as the chart below clearly shows:
The light green area in the middle shows that humidity from 40 to 60% is the
optimum zone. Were you aware that relative humidity levels less than 40%
actually increase the likelihood of your “catching” colds, flu (influenza)
and other upper respiratory ailments? Low humidity dries out your mucous
membranes and can irritate your lungs. Other symptoms are chapped lips, dry
skin (anyone interested in accelerating the aging process?), itchy eyes,
sinus pain, including possible nose bleed in severe dryness, a dry sore
throat and finally headaches. Now, would anyone argue none of the above is
life threatening and/or life shortening, especially when happening on a
repeated, annual basis? However, what if your immune system is already weak?
And how lethal is pneumonia?
- Bottom Line: A lack of H²O in your household is not as lethal as too much CO, but it is certainly a close runner-up.
Feel The Heat
Here’s an even lesser known fact: low humidity makes it seem colder than it actually is. - How so? As we’re all already aware, high humidity in the summer makes it seem warmer than it is. In the winter, low humidity inside your home has the exact opposite effect. If you take a look at the chart below, you'll see that if it is 70 degrees and the humidity is only 10%, it will feel like only 64 degrees!!!
Apparent Temperature for Values of Room Temperature and Relative Humidity:
Relative Humidity % in Shaded Blue
Also, you may already be aware of additional unwanted and undesirable consequences of low humidity: it will dry out your plants, your furniture and your wood floors. I have clients right now where a new painting job is in order, since their home is so dry that the taping and the paint are cracking all over the place. Low humidity also will increase static electricity in your home. That same static can hinder the smooth operation of computers and paper processing equipment.
- Bottom Line: To fully feel the heat in the winter, simply add water!
Money Up In The Air
By now, I hope you are convinced that for the sake of our own health and comfort, higher humidity in the heating season is not only desirable, but quite frankly indispensable. But wait, there is yet another great benefit: Since it costs a whole lot less to humidify the air than to heat it, a humidifier can save you a ton of money! The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that you can save up to 4% on your heating bill for every single degree you lower your thermostat. Let’s say you kept your thermostat at 74 degrees before addressing the relative humidity issue; say you now set your thermostat at 69 degrees and still feel perfectly warm. Your annual heating saving could be as much as 20%!
Before we discuss the many options on how you can put water back in the air, let’s find out what is the exact humidity level in your home. You can easily do this yourself. Head to your nearest hardware store right now and buy a hygrometer (sometimes referred to as humidity meter or humidistat); they retail for less than $20, even for the digital models, which tend to be more consistent.
Be ready for some "bad news”; The fact is that a typical home can be up to four times below the recommended level of 45 - 50%. In the heating season, there is absolutely no home that can actually maintain this level of humidity without help, and that is still true for newly, well-built homes equipped with heat or energy recovery ventilators (HRV's & ERV's). This helper’s name is Mr. Humidifier. The first thing that comes to your mind is probably those unwelcomed clumsy portable models. But these are quite inconvenient, not to mention that you would need to purchase – monitor, maintain, refill with water - a few units for each room. However, if you rent, or if you need a quick fix, in the short term these might still be your best option.
A central, automatic whole-home humidifier is more desirable, more convenient and certainly more efficient. The good news is that, in our area, most people have a forced-air central heating system where this type of humidifier can be installed at a relatively low cost. The bad news is that many homes have such systems already in place, but for one reason or another, they have been disabled, intentionally or not. There are then several options available, with new products and technologies available to you, or perhaps your existing system can be repaired and/or updated. My experience taught me that this is often the case. Since each home is unique, only a close evaluation will tell.
If you do not have a central air system, and if you do not wish to use portable units, all hope is not lost. If you do have baseboards, radiators or radiant heat, there are other options available, such as stand-alone (meaning its own ductwork), whole-home humidification systems with some models using computer assisted steam technology requiring minimal maintenance. Such types also can be equipped with high quality air filtering systems.
No matter which techniques are used, most are relatively inexpensive. And the good news is that you could be recouping your investment within a year, in terms of dollars, that is. As we just analyzed, your biggest returns cannot be measured in terms of dollars; the money saved is simply a fringe benefit at best, compared to the terrific benefit you will accrue in better health and greater comfort in your home.
“There is as yet no cure for the common cold. The most important preventive measure would appear to be the proper regulation of the humidity.” - Joseph Lubart, MD, New York State Journal of Medicine
- The results are paying off for a number of our customers! - Read Related Testimonials
This hygrometer can be yours at absolutely no cost to you!
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