Why Air Dries Out in the Winter
When the heating system runs throughout the winter, it raises the temperature of the air, which allows it to hold more moisture. As the air warms and there’s no natural source of water evaporating into the air, the relative humidity drops. Typical activities indoors during cold weather usually don’t provide enough water vapor to bring the humidity back to healthy levels, which range between 30 and 50 percent.
Why Humidity Helps
Anything below 30 percent and above 50 percent creates uncomfortable conditions, not only for you but also for your home and its contents. During the heating season, it’s far more common for the level to fall below 30 percent, which can cause:
- Health problems. One of the most important ways humidifiers improve indoor air quality is by reducing the chances of contacting infectious diseases. Bacteria and viruses have moist protective coatings, but when the air is too dry, the coating evaporates quickly. This makes them more viable when they come into contact with you, whether it’s on your hands or directly into your respiratory system. Dry air also irritates the entire respiratory system, including the nasal passages, throat, and sinuses tissues. This dryness makes them even more vulnerable for invasion by airborne viruses and bacteria and from surface contact. Additionally, skin cracks from dry air are not only irritating and painful, but they can also be the entry points for infectious bacteria that cause even more discomfort and potential problems.
- Damage to your home. As the air dries, the wood from which your home is constructed gives up its natural moisture and shrinks. The air seeks equilibrium and the retained water in anything made from wood in your home will evaporate. Wood floors, cabinets, artwork, and musical instruments can all crack. If the shrinkage is excessive, they may not go back to their original condition when the humidity increases, requiring professional help to repair them.
- Damage to electronics. While you may find static electricity shocks annoying, they can disable electronics that have low voltage components. Preventing these shocks by adding humidity can save you time and money should you need to repair or replace the devices.
Increasing the Humidity
You might be able to seek relief from dry indoor air by:
- Not running the kitchen exhaust fan when cooking or the bathroom exhaust fans while showering.
- Simmering a pan of water on the stove while you’re home to monitor it.
- Increasing the number of house plants in your home. Placing the plants on waterproof dishes, covering the bottom with pebbles, and setting the plant on top will increase the humidity slowly. If you choose the plants based on their ability to remove certain pollutants common in indoor air, you can use them as humidifiers and air purifiers, as well. Use care when selecting plants, however, since some are toxic to pets and children if ingested.
- Using portable humidifiers throughout your home or installing a whole-house humidification system.
Benefits of Whole-House Humidifiers
Across the board, both portable and whole-house humidifiers improve indoor air quality, but in terms of usability, a whole-house system offers much more convenience and effectiveness. A central system attaches to your forced-air heating and cooling system and sends the humidified air throughout, whereas portable devices only humidify the specific areas where they sit.
A whole-house system is often the best choice since it offers:
- Reduced maintenance. A portable humidifier needs to be cleaned several times a week to stop the possibility of mold and bacterial growth in the tank. If you have more than one, you may find that it’s a time-consuming task. While these humidifiers improve indoor air quality, they require frequent filling (often daily) for you to get the benefits a healthy humidity level provides. Central units require infrequent maintenance during the winter.
- Automatic filling. Whole-house humidifiers fill directly from your home’s plumbing supply. Since they only use enough water to keep the absorbent pads wet, there’s little risk of mold or bacterial growth.
- Widespread comfort. A whole-house humidification system spreads the humidified air throughout the entire home so that it’s evenly comfortable, unlike portable devices that only humidify the areas in which they’re placed.
- Quiet operation. Portable humidifiers use fans to circulate the water vapor as well as a whole-house system, but the noise their fans make is far lower than those used with portable devices.
- Space-saving. Since the whole-house system attaches to the HVAC system, you won’t lose floor or furniture space, and there’s no risk of tipping it over.
- More energy efficient. By their nature, central humidifiers use little electricity since the most common types use evaporation instead of heat to turn water into a vapor. Using just one humidifier for your whole home also uses less power than having multiple devices running at any given time.
- Lower heating bills. Air that’s dry feels cooler than when the humidity is within the healthy range. Moisture on the skin evaporates more quickly when it’s dry, which makes you feel cold. With a whole-house humidifier, the entire space will feel warmer by a few degrees for each 10 percent increase in humidity. As a consequence, you can lower the thermostat to achieve the same level of perceptible interior warmth with a central humidification system.
Types of Whole-House Systems
All whole-house humidifiers improve indoor air quality, and the type you choose depends on your HVAC system and preferences. Options available include:
- Evaporative humidifiers. These devices use a separate fan that blows over a wet absorbent pad to evaporate the water and blow the humidity through the ductwork.
- Bypass humidifiers. These types use the furnace fan to pull air over the pad, cutting back on the amount of electricity it takes to humidify the air.
- Steam humidifiers. These improve indoor air quality similar to the way portable steamers do, but on a larger and more maintenance-free scale. They use electrodes that heat the water that’s in direct contact with the electrodes, creating steam. The steam enters the ductwork and circulates through your home.
With the exception of steam humidifiers, these devices use pads that absorb water, drain pans that whisk away the excess into your home’s plumbing, and a float that opens and closes automatically to start or stop the flow of water over the pad.
Managing Humidity Levels
All whole-house humidifiers are controlled by a humidistat, similar to a thermostat, except the humidistat measures humidity. Thermostats are available that control both temperature and humidity in a single unit. These devices simplify managing home comfort and indoor air quality.
Some measure outdoor temperature, as well, but since our winter weather doesn’t reach extremely cold temperatures, adjustments based on outdoor temperature aren’t necessary. During sub-zero temperatures, humidity can freeze on windows or pipes inside walls, causing water damage when it melts.
Humidifiers improve indoor air quality effectively and affordably with other significant benefits for you and your home. To learn more, contact the pros at Logan Home Energy Services. We’ve provided top-notch HVAC and IAQ solutions for homeowners in the Winston-Salem area for more than 60 years.