Solved! This Is Your Home’s Ideal Indoor Humidity Level
Too much or too little indoor humidity can lead to potential health problems—and big repair bills. Learn how to achieve the ideal humidity for your house.
Q: My husband and I just moved from Reno, Nevada, to Baytown, Texas, and the humidity here is high, even indoors. What’s the ideal home humidity level indoors, and is there anything we can do to feel more comfortable?
A: Indoor humidity in Texas: Talk about a sticky situation! While you can’t change the humidity levels outside, there are a number of steps you can take to control humidity levels inside your home. Ideally, humidity levels should be between 30 percent and 50 percent. “The 30 to 50 percent range is standard. But personal comfort, health, and the season should guide specifics,” says Josh Mitchell, HVAC technician and owner of Air Conditioner Lab.
When the humidity is higher than 50 percent, you won’t just feel sticky and uncomfortable, the increased moisture in the air can lead to mold growth, and condensation on windows and toilet tanks. The water droplets that collect can eventually cause the rot and decay of materials in your home, such as flooring and structural elements.
On the other hand, inadequate humidity in the house can also be a problem. Low humidity can result in dry skin, sinus issues, and increased static electricity. Excessively dry air, at 5 percent humidity or less, can also cause wallpaper to peel away and wood furniture and building materials to shrink, which can lead to warping or cracking.
Here’s how to achieve ideal indoor humidity levels for the comfort of your family, and the structural integrity of your house.
Use indoor humidity gauges to determine how much moisture is in the air.
To monitor home humidity levels, consider purchasing several inexpensive gauges, such as Pinmu’s 4-Pack Mini Digital Humidity Meters. Position them in different areas of your home, because humidity can vary from room to room (basements are often more humid than other rooms, for example, because moisture from the ground can seep through basement walls). If the humidity is over 50 percent or under 30 percent in one or more areas, the following solutions will help you adjust the humidity level at home.
While hygrometers are the go-to tools for measuring humidity, Mitchell suggests paying close attention to physical signs too. “Consistent condensation on windows, a musty smell, or unusual respiratory responses can all signal high humidity,” Mitchell says.
Replace an old air conditioner to lower the humidity and achieve a comfortable humidity level.
In addition to cooling indoor air, AC units remove moisture. A central air conditioning unit should last 12 to 15 years before needing replacement, and a window unit should last 8 to 10 years. When air conditioners are older than their predicted useful life their components can wear out, and they may no longer be removing humidity efficiently. “Regular maintenance is key. I recommend professional servicing every year before summer, regular filter changes (every 30-90 days, depending on use), and keeping the unit and surrounding area clean and free from debris,” Mitchell says. “Also, ensuring the refrigerant level is adequate can prevent overworking the system.”
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Install a bathroom exhaust vent to remove humid air after bathing.
Much as you enjoy long, hot showers or baths, all that steam will float out as soon as you open the bathroom door. Run a bathroom exhaust fan, such as the Panasonic WhisperFit exhaust fan, during and after bathing to draw steamy air up, out, and away. (Be sure to determine the right size bathroom exhaust fan for your needs before purchase.)
Use a room dehumidifier to remove moisture from spaces with high humidity.
Even the best air conditioner might not remove enough humidity for optimum comfort. A supplemental room dehumidifier, such as the Vremi Dehumidifier for Medium Spaces and Basements, can make even the muggiest areas, such as basement bedrooms, feel more pleasant.
Use a portable humidifier to relieve skin and respiratory problems.
If a family member suffers from dry nasal passages, sinusitis, or skin irritations, all of which can be aggravated by low humidity, a humidifier can help alleviate symptoms. A portable humidifier, such as Pure Enrichment’s Mist Aire Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier, will introduce soothing moisture to the air and reduce health issues as well as annoying static electricity. This type of humidifier is a great option for bedrooms, living rooms, and nurseries.
If the humidity level at home is too low, adopt practices that add moisture to the air.
To increase humidity in an overly dry home, try these simple household solutions:
- Open the dishwasher after the final rinse cycle and allow the steam to flow out rather than using the dry cycle.
- Keep a large pot of water simmering on the stove.
- Air-dry laundry on an indoor clothesline.
- Allow bathwater to cool in the tub before draining it to release moisture into the air. Do this with a sink full of warm dishwater, too.
- Acquire some houseplants, which release moisture into the air through their leaves.
- Keep a fine-mist spray bottle handy and spray the air lightly every hour or so. You don’t want to spray so much that furniture or countertop surfaces become wet; just a light spritz here and there will help raise the humidity lev el at home.
Consider a whole-house solution.
When the indoor humidity levels in the entire home are consistently high—if they regularly register higher than 50 percent humidity—it might be time to consider a whole-house dehumidifier. “Whole-house dehumidifiers are particularly useful in regions with high humidity levels, such as coastal areas,” says Dan Mingle, vice president at Sanders & Johnsons, a heating and cooling service company in Denver, Colorado.
Whole-house dehumidifiers are a special type of HVAC system designed to regulate and maintain optimal humidity levels throughout a home. They are part of the home’s central heating and cooling system (and as such, require professional installation) and work to reduce excess moisture in the air. Additionally, these systems can help prevent the proliferation of pests such as dust mites and insects.
“Lower humidity levels can make the environment less hospitable for some pests,” Mingle says. “A whole-house dehumidifier…helps reduce allergens like dust mites, mold, and mildew, which thrive in high-humidity environments. Large or multistory homes,” he continues, “can also benefit from whole-house dehumidifiers since they can effectively manage humidity levels on all floors.”
On the other side of the humidity spectrum, there are areas of the country—think Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico—in which the is severely dry all year long. Homeowners in these areas should consider installing a whole-house humidifier to increase the moisture in their home’s air.
Cover a dirt basement floor with a vapor barrier.
Most of today’s new homes have poured concrete basement floors, but many houses built before 1950 still have unfinished dirt floors. The moisture in a dirt-floor basement can be as high as 100 percent, depending on the dampness of the soil, and that moisture can filter up into other areas of the home. The solution, in this case, is placing a vapor barrier, such as 6mm plastic sheeting, over the dirt, and then covering the sheeting with several inches of sand or pea gravel to hold it in place.
Switch from forced-air heat to a different heating method.
A standard furnace heats the air and then distributes it throughout the home, but the warming process dries the air and removes humidity. If your house has too little humidity during the winter months, switchning from a forced-air heating system to radiant heat (photo, above) will keep the air from drying out. Radiant heat can be installed beneath flooring and behind wall panels, but it’s not a DIY job. A professional radiant heating contractor should do the work.