High Humidity Can Make You and Your Home Sick
A common summer complaint is: It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. Too much moisture in the hot summer air can literally turn your home in into a steam bath. Though weather conditions have the greatest effect on humidity levels, high humidity can be present:
- During summer months
- In areas located near waterfronts
- After continuous rains
- In rooms with plumbing running through them, such as kitchens and bathrooms
- In undergrounds facilities, such as basements
- In rooms with poor ventilation – especially super energy efficient homes built in the last fifteen years
Beyond feeling hot, sticky, having excessively flat hair and being generally uncomfortable, high humidity can be bad for health – your home’s health and your personal health.
When it comes to your home, high humidity can be the cause of:
- Warping of wood floors, furniture and trim
- Chipped and peeling paint and wallpaper
- Wet stains on walls and ceilings
- Musty, foul smelling odors
And when it comes to your health, high humidity can be responsible for:
- Growth of dust mites
- Products in the home that off-gas at higher rates causing allergic reactions
- Growth of fungi and bacteria
- Growth of mold and mildew
- Clammy feeling
- Trouble sleeping
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the ideal relative humidity range for the home is between 35 – 50 percent, at this range you are comfortable, healthy and your home is protected.
The big question is how to effectively and efficiently accomplish this? Most people try to use their air conditioner to remove humidity. But according to air quality experts, homeowners should never lower the thermostat temperature in an attempt to control humidity in their home. Setting the thermostat temperature lower does two things that are counter to your goal of reducing the moisture content in your home.
- It actually increases the indoor relative humidity and, more importantly, it decreases the temperature of the materials in the walls, floors, and ceilings of your home, thereby significantly increasing the potential for condensation on these elements of the home.
- Secondly, with today’s super energy efficient homes, a typical air conditioning unit will cycle on and off too quickly to eliminate excess moisture in the air.
As a result, homeowners resort to overcooling the living space while attempting to remove moisture, which leads to uncomfortable air temperatures, high energy bills and excess wear on the cooling system.
An alternative is a portable dehumidifier, which by definition will only address a small area of the home. A portable dehumidifier is designed to run at a temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, while basements have an average temperature of between 58 to 65 degrees. Below 65 degrees, frost can form on the condensing coils, which negatively affects performance by causing the compressor to cycle on and off repeatedly without removing moisture from the air. While a portable dehumidifier can be valuable for a small, isolated space, common complaints are that they are noisy and require regular maintenance.
Another option to consider that is growing in great popularity is a whole-home dehumidifier. Better systems work in conjunction with the cooling system and can remove up to 90 pints of moisture from the home’s environment each day.
Whole-home dehumidifiers are designed to remove moisture while the thermostat is designed to maintain temperature. A whole-house dehumidifier automatically senses moisture levels and maintains the optimum humidity level in the home. In addition, these systems can switch between whole home and localized areas – such as a basement – offering the best of both worlds.
One of the most appealing aspects of having dehumidified air is that it actually feels cooler to the skin, thus allowing homeowners to raise the thermostat. This can result in significant energy savings (and a lower utility bill) and less wear and tear on the cooling system without sacrificing comfort.
And when it comes to maintenance, a whole house dehumidifier contains a pump and drain line that will discharge collected water into a sump or drainage system, in contrast to a portable system with a collection system that must be regularly emptied. Better whole house systems have a high efficiency filter that will usually need to be cleaned once annually.
Though a whole house dehumidifier is essential to managing excess humidity, there are preventative steps that you can take, which will further reduce the problem. They include:
- Clean and repair roof gutters regularly – use covers to keep leaves and sticks from building up in the gutters.
- Vent appliances that produce moisture, such as clothes dryers and stoves to the outside where possible.
- Make sure the ground slopes away from the building foundation, so that water does not enter or collect around the foundation.
- Use down spout extenders that carry water at least six feet away from the foundation.
- Seal unwanted air leaks, such as around holes for plumbing and wiring, this is where humid outside air sneaks into the home.
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