As cold weather moves in, humidity levels naturally drop. That’s because cold air can’t hold as much moisture as warm air. Ideal indoor humidity during winter should hover around 45%. But dry winter air can cause your humidity to drop substantially, to levels of 15% or less. With this humidity imbalance come a number of potential problems that can affect health, home and especially comfort, according to Lennox Industries, Richardson, Texas, a manufacturer of residential and commercial HVACR systems. The company issued tips on how to talk to customers about dry air problems in the home and what can be done to resolve them.
Dry air tries to absorb moisture wherever it can find it. This means that during cold winter weather, dry air can start to pull moisture from the structure of a home. As a house dries out, customers might notice that floors, particularly hardwood floors, will begin to creak more.
Dry air can also pull moisture from the wood in the frame of a home, causing walls and door jambs to shift. This can make doors hard to open and close, and cause gaps between ceilings and walls. These gaps can also form in windows that are made entirely of wood. This lets in cold winter air, thereby increasing the cost of heating.
As the air in a home becomes more dry, it can start to damage not only the home, but the things in it. Wood furniture can start to bend and even crack. Musical instruments can lose their shape and their tune. Even paper items such as books and artwork can become brittle, warped and wrinkled.
Dry air affects people in a number of ways. The upper part of the respiratory system, including the throat and nose, is lined with moist membranes. These membranes serve to capture dirt, dust, viruses and bacteria before they reach the lungs. When these membranes lose too much moisture to dry air, their ability to capture particles becomes compromised. Proper humidity levels help these membranes do their job preventing harmful particles from getting into the sensitive areas of lungs. Taking steps to keep the right amount of moisture in the air can actually reduce risk of illness.
In some individuals, particularly dry air can cause another uncomfortable and unpleasant symptom: itchy, uncomfortable nasal passages. Because the majority of breathing is done through the nose, low humidity levels can cause the inside of the nose to become dry and irritated. This is not only painful, it can cause nosebleeds. But properly humidified air keeps the nasal passages healthy and comfortable.
Skin is over half water. So when the air lacks humidity, skin will start to dry out. This can cause itching, flaking, and tightness around the joints. It can also cause painful cracking of the skin, and chapped lips. Overly dry air can also cause flare-ups of existing skin problems, including eczema and acne. But humidified air can help keep skin feeling great throughout the winter.
When air is properly humidified, static electricity is naturally dissipated. However, when the air is too dry, this static electricity begins to build up. This can cause blankets and clothes to stick together. And, more noticeably, it can cause painful electric shocks when touching a doorknob or another metal surface. When air has enough moisture in it, the electricity is dissipated before it can build up. So there aren’t shocks or problems making the bed or folding the laundry.
To avoid these dry air problems, there are two types of whole-home humidifiers available. Each is designed to help alleviate the issues caused by dry air. And unlike portable humidifiers that only restore moisture in one room, whole-home humidifiers help preserve comfort and healthier air in every room.
A bypass humidifier is one that uses the airflow created by a furnace or air handler to deliver moisture through the home. There are bypass humidifiers that mount out of sight in the basement or attic, and require very little maintenance. They can add up to 17 gallons of moisture to the air flowing through the ducts every day. Optional automatic humidity controls regulate the water it adds to the air, based on settings. A homeowner can specify the indoor humidity.
Unlike bypass humidifiers that require a furnace or air handler to circulate moisture, a power humidifier is one that uses its own electric fan to deliver moist air throughout a home. A power humidifier can add up to 18 gallons of moisture to air every day. A unit with its own powerful fan can humidify the air even when the heating and air-conditioning system is not operating.