While too much humidity can lead to mold, mildew, bacteria, fungus, dust mites, and a variety of other problems, when humidity is too low air pulls moisture from its environment, leading to dry skin, eyes, nose, and throat, cracking of woodwork and hygroscopic materials, and increased static electricity.

When the temperatures drop, the air gets drier. Lower temperatures mean drier air. When that cold, dry air gets inside, it is warmed up which leads to really low relative humidity.

Why Is Dry Air a Problem?

Since the humidity is so low, any moisture that is around quickly gets soaked up by the surrounding air. Moisture will evaporate from your skin, body, nose, and throat, leading to nose bleeds, illness, and discomfort.

And have you ever wondered why people get sick more frequently in the winter? One contributing factor is the dried-out breathing passages that make it easier for viruses and other “invaders” to enter your body.

Are you experiencing any of these dry air symptoms?

Dry, scratchy eyes
Static shocks
Coughing and breathing problems
Cold and flu symptoms
Worsened allergies and asthma
Dry houseplants
Cracks and damage to drywall or plaster walls
Peeling wallpaper
Dried out and cracking paper, books, art, instruments, floors, and furniture

What Does Relative Humidity Have to Do with It?

Humidity is the amount of water in the air. Relative humidity is the amount of water in the air compared to the maximum amount of moisture the air can hold (for that temperature).

For instance, if a cubic foot of air can hold 180 grains of water (one grain = approximately one drop), then if the air contains 180 grains, it is said to be at 100% relative humidity. At 50% relative humidity, there would be 90 grains in the cubic foot of air.

Keep in mind that temperature affects the amount of water vapor that air can “hold.” The higher the temperature, the more water vapor can be contained in the air. Take a look at the psychometric chart below to compare the relative humidity at different temperatures.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The colder the air, the less moisture it can hold. That’s why a high relative humidity in winter can be deceiving. The humidity is relative to the outside temperature. 80% relative humidity in 30-degree weather has about the same moisture content as 15% relative humidity at 80 degrees. So after the outdoor air is warmed up inside, it turns out you have very low relative humidity and very dry air.

Now, How Do I Fix It?

How does that cold, dry air enter your home? Through cracks and gaps in the building envelope. Sealing air leaks and improving insulation can help keep the outdoor air out, but then you have an indoor air quality problem with stale, trapped air. That’s where balanced ventilation comes in.

An airtight home with balanced ventilation (using heat/energy recovery ventilators to reduce energy loss) is the best way to save money and improve indoor air quality. Usually, sealing up your home and installing balanced ventilation will solve your humidity problems.

Even if you have comfortable indoor humidity levels, however, it may still be a good idea to invest in a whole-home humidification system.

The Importance of Whole-Home Humidification

A whole-home humidification system is a humidifier and dehumidifier in one. It gets installed directly to your existing central HVAC system so moisture gets evenly distributed throughout the home. Rather than adding or removing humidity in just one room, a whole-home system makes sure the entire indoor environment is set at the ideal humidity level.

All you have to do is set the desired humidity level and the whole-home humidification system with monitor the humidity level and then add or remove moisture as needed.

Whole-home humidification is especially important for musicians, art collectors, and anybody else with sensitive hygroscopic possessions.  Objects such as pianos, violins, paintings, paper, textiles, and furniture can quickly get destroyed by dry conditions. To reduce the risk of damage, use your existing air handler system to monitor and maintain stable relative humidity and temperature.

If you have a well-sealed house with balanced ventilation, you may not need a humidifier. Speak with the experts and learn more about whole-home humidification before making a decision.

What is the ideal humidity level for winter?

To help protect your sensitive instruments and art, we recommend maintaining a relative humidity between 45-55% at 68-72° Fahrenheit.

Most people will start to notice dry conditions at around 30 relative humidity (RH). Try to stay above 30% relative humidity.

The Environmental Protection Agency claims relative humidity is healthiest and most comfortable between 30 and 50%. It’s important that you keep relative humidity below 55% in the summertime.

Stop suffering with dry air and take action today! Contact the indoor air quality experts at OnTime Service.