The levels of humidity in your home significantly affect your comfort level as well as your health. If the humidity level falls outside the recommended range, it can not only harm your health but also cause damage to fabrics, furniture, and mechanical systems.
Maintaining an optimum level of humidity is imperative and an indoor humidity monitor can help you decide if you will need to take measures to reduce or increase the humidity level.
After taking a reading with the help of the humidity monitor, you can refer to a home humidity levels chart to determine if the air quality in your home is up to par.
Why should you monitor your home humidity levels?
Air contains water vapor or moisture. Humidity is the amount of moisture in the air and is specifically called absolute humidity. Relative humidity is the amount of moisture expressed as a percentage of how much moisture is needed to saturate the air at that particular temperature. Indoor humidity levels are recorded in terms of relative humidity. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that you maintain a relative humidity level which is below 60 percent.
If humidity is too high, it can cause several adverse effects:
- A variety of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms breed and thrive in excessively humid environments. They can cause respiratory illnesses and infections, especially in people who suffer from low immunity. Mold spores also multiply in humid air and can produce allergens and hazardous toxins. Asthma attacks are triggered in highly humid environments.
- Excessive dampness can warp wood, damaging floors and furniture as a result. It can cause water stains on wallpaper or paint. It promotes the growth of algae and fungi, which can form on upholstery and lead to rot.
- It can cause decay in spaces where moist air gets trapped, such as basements, poorly ventilated niches, and closets.
- When exposed to excessive moisture over a period of time, mechanical systems like air conditioning units and pipes can develop rust.
- In winter, when the air is warm on the inside and cold on the outside, if the indoor air is too humid, the excess moisture will condense on window panes, flow down into the wooden frame, and cause rot.
- Dust mites breed in bedding and furniture and can worsen respiratory illnesses.
- High humidity can cause general discomfort and disrupt sleep.
- Mold and mildew thrive in highly humid air. They can cause unseemly discoloration on walls and ceilings, especially in steamy spaces like the kitchen and bathroom.
- The growth of microorganisms can cause a musty odor indoors.
- Moisture from damp indoor air can seep into walls and under the floor. When they accumulate behind walls, they can cause rot in the drywall.
- Humidity that is below a minimum recommended level can also cause problems:
- Excessively dry air can cause damage to wood and paint, thereby damaging furniture, floors, and wall panels.
- Health consequences of low humidity include dry skin, chapped lips, irritated and burning eyes, and itching.
- More serious health problems include bronchitis, allergic rhinitis, and asthma attacks.
- Viruses, like the ones that cause cold and flu, last longer in drier air.
- Dry air promotes ozone production, leading to unhealthy levels of ozone in the indoor air.
What are the recommended optimum indoor humidity levels?
Indoor humidity levels are expressed in terms of relative humidity, which takes temperature into account. The ideal level of indoor humidity depends on the outdoor temperature or the season. By maintaining the right level of humidity, your home can be made comfortably cool in summer and warm in winter.
Ideal humidity range:
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health recommends that 30% to 50% humidity is a healthy range. According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers, the ideal range for comfort is 45% to 55%.
Humidity can be measured using portable hygrometers, many of which are available at a relatively low cost. Alternatively, some thermostats come equipped with built-in humidity sensors.
Maintaining optimum humidity through the seasons:
Climate and geography have to be considered while maintaining the right level of indoor humidity. The recommended range is 40% to 50% in summer and 30% to 40% in winter.
Cold air cannot retain as much moisture as warm air. When warm indoor air comes in contact with window panes that are cold on the outside, the indoor temperature drops and water vapor is released.
If the indoor humidity is a little high, more moisture is released, causing condensation which trickles down into the window frames and damages them.
In extremely cold climates, this condensation can turn to frost or ice and can also collect in attics and the drywall, causing rot over time. To avoid this, the ideal humidity range is slightly lower for winter.
How can you monitor temperatures and humidity levels in your home?
Relative humidity levels depend on temperature. Especially in places where temperatures fluctuate drastically with the seasons, humidity levels in your home will need to be monitored over time. This is particularly the case in peak summer or winter.
Hygrometers are easily available in a wide price range for this purpose. The simpler ones measure humidity while the more expensive options will also measure levels of carbon dioxide, toxins and dust. If you do not constantly monitor humidity, there are a few low-tech options as well.
- Ice cube test: This is a simple method to get an idea of ambient humidity. Place a few cubes of ice in a glass and add water. Leave it undisturbed for around four minutes. If a lot of condensation occurs on the outside of the glass, the ambient humidity is very high. If no condensation occurs, the humidity is very low. Care should be taken not to place the glass in the kitchen where vapors could affect it, or in a space that has a lot of foot traffic, because it is affected by movement.
- Mason hygrometer: You can buy one or construct one with two thermometers. One thermometer has a wet cloth wrapped around the bulb. The difference in the two temperature readings is then compared with a humidity level chart to determine if the level falls withing a comfortable and healthy range.
- Analog hygrometers: A variety of mechanical and electrical hygrometers are available. They may not be as accurate as their digital counterparts but are useful in providing a ballpark measurement. Most of them are inexpensive as well.
- A metal-paper coil variety uses a salt-encrusted piece of paper and measures humidity when the paper changes shape due to water absorption or loss and moves a needle.
- Electrical hygrometers measure humidity by measuring the change in resistance or capacitance in their mechanism.
- Manual hygrometers need frequent calibration but are portable and inexpensive. They are suitable for personal use in humidors, musical instrument cases, and home use.
- Digital hygrometers: Digital monitors are more accurate than their analog counterparts and are a little more expensive. Inexpensive options are also available like ThermoPro indoor thermometer and hygrometer. While most analog hygrometers provide a reading with an accuracy of plus or minus 10%, digital ones have an accuracy range of 2.5%. Most of them are portable and easily mountable. They may also include an alert system for when the humidity falls out of the ideal range.
- Wireless connection to your mobile phone: You can connect your hygrometer to your phone using wireless technology like Bluetooth or via the internet. If you have a “smart home” setup or hub, this can be done to allow you to monitor and control the humidity levels remotely, without being physically present in your home.
- Telltale signs: There are several indications to watch out for, which can tell you if the humidity in your home is too high or too low. This is how you can test humidity without a hygrometer.
- A few examples are static electricity from doorknobs or carpet, fogged windows, water in vases evaporating too quickly, a musty odor when you turn on the air conditioning, water stains on wallpaper or paint, peeling paint, excessively creaking wood floors, cracks in wood, and a general feeling of dryness.
How can you balance your indoor humidity?
- In summer, the air conditioning acts as a dehumidifier to a certain degree, as cold air is drier than warm air.
- A powerful and efficient exhaust system is essential in kitchens and showers where steam is produced and the moist air can get trapped for a while.
- During the dry season, you can add houseplants such as areca palms, boston ferns, orchid plants or peace lily plants to your decor. These plants transpire or emit moisture more than other varieties and can increase indoor humidity.
- You could place shallow dishes of water near heating vents and radiators. As the water evaporates, it adds moisture to the air. Hanging wet clothes around your living space can do the same.
- You could reduce the use of washers and dryers or vent their exhaust directly to the exterior of your home. Using less steamy showers and covering pots while boiling anything on the stovetop are other ways to mitigate the humidity levels in your home.
- The most effective way to balance indoor humidity is through the use of humidifiers and dehumidifiers. The latter tends to be a little more expensive than the former. Many portable options are available for both.
- Whole-house humidifiers are the most expensive option but are pre-installed with the heating system. They are automatically turned on when humidity levels need an adjustment and do not require constant monitoring.