Solved! The Recommended Humidity Level at Home
Learn how to maintain ideal moisture levels in the air to protect your family’s health and comfort, as well as the structural integrity of your house.
Q: My husband and I just moved from Reno, Nevada, to Baytown, Texas, and the humidity here is high, even indoors. We’re wondering what’s an acceptable humidity level at home, and is there anything we can do to feel more comfortable?
A: Talk about a sticky situation! Fortunately, while you can’t change the outdoor humidity, there are a number of steps you can take to control humidity levels in your house, which should ideally be between 30 percent and 50 percent.
When the humidity is higher than 50 percent, not only will you feel uncomfortable, the increased moisture in the air can lead to mold growth and to condensation on windows and toilet tanks. Condensation results in water droplets, and this water can eventually cause the rot and decay of materials in your home, such as flooring and structural members.
On the other hand, inadequate humidity can also be a problem, resulting in dry skin, sinus issues, and increased static electricity. Excessively dry air, at five 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 manage 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.
Several of these inexpensive gauges, such as Pinmu’s 4-Pack Mini Digital Humidity Meters (available from Amazon) should be positioned in different areas of your home, as humidity can vary from room to room. For example, basements are often more humid than other rooms because the moisture from the soil 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.
Replace an old air conditioner to lower the humidity more efficiently.
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 eight to 10 years. When air conditioners are older than their predicted useful life, their components can wear out, and they may no longer be efficiently removing humidity.
Use a room dehumidifier to remove moisture from spaces with the highest 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 (available from Amazon), can make even the muggiest areas, such as basement bedrooms, feel more pleasant.
If the entire home is too humid, consider a whole-house dehumidifier.
If the entire house consistently registers higher than 50 percent humidity, a whole-house dehumidifier installed on your home’s HVAC system should help. This type of dehumidifier, which should be installed by an HVAC professional, removes moisture as the air cycles through the main vent system.
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 WhisperSense Bathroom Fan (available from Amazon), during and after bathing to draw steamy air up, out, and away. (Get tips on finding the right size exhaust fan here.)
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 6 mm plastic sheeting, over the dirt, and then covering the sheeting with several inches of sand or pea gravel to hold it in place.
If the humidity level at home is too low, often in the winter, you can inject moisture.
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 line.
- 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 level at home.
Use a humidifier in key areas.
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 TaoTronic’s Cool Mist Humidifier (available from Amazon), 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.
For homes in arid regions, a whole-house humidifier will add moisture all year long.
In parts of the country, such as areas of Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, the air can be severely dry all year long. Homeowners in these regions should consider having a whole-house humidifier professionally installed on their home’s HVAC system.
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 valuable humidity. If a house suffers from too little humidity only during the winter months, switching from a forced-air heating system to radiant heat 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.