Balance humidity for indoor comfort in winter
In typical Michigan winter-weather fashion, we have gone from rain to sleet to temperatures in the teens this past month, wreaking havoc on your indoor heat and humidity factor. But adjusting your thermostat is just one thing you need to do to ensure your indoor comfort level during the winter. The other is to adjust your indoor humidity.
Even if the outdoor humidity is high due to the moisture in the air, the more your furnace runs, the dryer your home becomes, causing static electricity, bloody noses and dry, scratchy throats when you wake up in the morning.
“Even if it is wet outside, that outdoor humidity doesn’t get inside your home in the winter, so you need to run your humidifier to provide the proper amount of humidity when you are running the furnace,” said Mark Ratliff at Hartford and Ratliff, (800) 466-3110, www.hartfordandratliff.com.
Ratliff said for most homes, the proper level of relative humidity should be around 50 percent.
If you have a forced-air furnace, you probably already have a flow-through or drum-type whole-house humidifier system with a humidistat control that either automatically adjusts the amount of humidity in your home or allows you to control it manually. Fortunately, Ratliff said if you already have a whole-house humidifier, you probably don’t need to get a newer model.
“For most people, it is more cost effective to keep their current model and maintain it since it already has the right footprint for your furnace and usually changing the drum pad or filter is all you need to do to keep it running properly,” Ratliff said.
Ratliff said you should also check to make sure your water lines that run into the humidifier aren’t plugged and make sure it is draining properly into either your sump pump crock or floor drain, or via a condensate pump.
Even if your humidifier is working properly, it is still important to use a hygrometer to determine the relative humidity in your home so you can adjust your humidistat up or down as needed to get your home’s level at around 50 percent. But remember, while too little humidity in the winter is a problem, so is too much, which can result in bacteria growth and sweat on your windows. So getting the levels just right will ensure your indoor comfort. In addition, the proper humidity levels in a home make you feel warmer, so you will be able to turn down your thermostat and save money on your heating bills.
Some manufacturers of quality whole-house humidifiers include Aprilaire (www.aprilaire.com), GeneralAire (www.generalaire.com) and Honeywell (www.honeywell.com).
If you don’t have a forced air heating system, you can still benefit from whole-house humidification by using a steam humidifier system with a separate blower kit. Aprilaire, GeneralAire and Honeywell manufacture steam systems that would work for homes with baseboard or in-floor heat.
If you are considering a new whole-house system, or want to determine if your current model can sufficiently humidify your home, you should visit the Humidity Calculator on the GeneralAire website. The calculator enables you to determine the gallons per day of water you need to disperse through your humidifier to get your home to the proper humidity level.
If you have a smaller home or just want to add humidity to one or two rooms, consider a portable humidifier. These units come in a variety of designs these days, including cool mist evaporative, warm mist and even ultrasonic humidifiers that use vibration at high frequencies to break up the water into tiny droplets and are very efficient.
Remember, the humidity level in your home during the winter can be lower than the level in the Sahara Desert if you don’t use a humidifier. And that extremely dry air not only makes you feel colder and affects your respiratory health, it can cause cracks in your wood floors and furniture. So make sure your humidifier is working properly and is providing the amount of humidity you need to ensure you are comfortable this winter.