Is the air in your home feeling dry? If you have chapped lips and your skin is looking dry, then the chances are that the relative humidity (RH) is too low. The air dries out in the winter in many locations across the US. As the rains subside, the soil turns to dust, and everything seems to crave water.
Dry air in your home might not seem like much of an issue. However, the reality is that it can cause several health problems. Dry air in the house affects the respiratory system, causing coughing, sneezing, and sinus pain.
However, it's easy to confuse these symptoms with something else, like a mild infection with a cold or hay fever caused by respiratory allergens. According to information from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans should aim for an RH of between 50% to 60% in their home. These RH levels provide the most comfortable living conditions and no stress on the respiratory system.
So, what happens if the air in your home gets too dry? What are the causes of dry air, and what can you do to remedy the situation? This post unpacks everything you need to know about dry air in your home and its impact on your health.
There are several causes for a drop in the relative humidity inside your home. First, let's start with unpacking the concept of relative humidity itself.
The RH is a reading of how much moisture is present in the air in your room. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that homeowners keep RH between 50% to 60%, with 55% being optimal.
As the winter draws closer, the air gets colder, losing its ability to hold moisture. As a result, the air starts to dry out, causing the RH inside your home to drop.
When we couple this effect with indoor heating, it dries the air out further, dropping the RH in the room below 40%, and bad things start to happen with your health.
Dry air in your home adversely affects your health by inflaming respiratory issues and conditions and creating skin issues in sensitive individuals.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, breathing dry air causes the airways to constrict. As a result, affected individuals may start to develop symptoms of shortness of breath in a process known as "bronchoconstriction."
The CDC states that this effect is typically more severe in young people who already have respiratory illness or issues like asthma. Dry air can act as a significant asthma trigger in sensitive individuals.
Constriction of breathing caused by dry air in the room can lead to the following symptoms.
When RH levels around the home drop, you'll start to notice the impact of the loss of humidity in the air on your skin. Your lips might start to chap, and your skin will dry out. Many people find that their skin starts to feel itchy when the RH drops too low.
Some individuals with very dry skin are at risk of developing a skin disorder known as "dermatitis." This condition creates inflammation in the skin, leading to redness in the skin folds behind the knees and the joints.
The American Skin Association states low humidity in the air may is one of the most common causes of developing dry skin. It's also important that dry air may adversely affect your hair, leading to thinning and more shedding.
Some of the other common symptoms associated with dry air and low RH levels include the following.
It's important to note that people with allergies may experience an increase in the frequency and intensity of winter allergies in low RH conditions. People with asthma and respiratory illnesses may also see an increase in their symptoms in dry air conditions.
Dry air not only harms your health but also damages your home. There are several problems occurring in homes with low RH levels.
Some of the more common problems with low RH during the wintertime include the following issues.
If you have hardwood floors, the lack of humidity in the air dries out the wood, especially if it doesn't have the right treatment.
As a result, the planks in your flooring may start to warp, separate, or delaminate, causing tripping hazards throughout the home.
If you have hardwood door frames and doors, you can expect the same warping issues as you get with your flooring.
You might find that the door starts to loosely fit into the frame, causing cold drafts to pass through the gaps. The warping of the door may also make it harder to open and close the door.
Even if you have treated walls, they can still experience damage from dry air inside the home. When RH levels drop, it can cause paint to crack and peel, and wallpaper may begin to bubble and peel.
Low RH levels can cause cracks between the cornices and trimming around the floor and ceiling, resulting in separation from the walls.
An increase in dry air in your home can also damage other items like paintings and wooden furniture, like bookcases. Homes with lower RH levels also build up more static electricity, damaging electrical goods when you touch them.
To prevent the air from getting too dry in your home, you'll have to take steps to change the situation and the environment. We have two recommendations.
A humidifier works by heating water into steam, pushing it out into the room to increase the relative humidity. You have options for ultrasonic or steam humidifiers, and the steam option is the more affordable model.
Bringing some plants into the room can add humidity back to the air. When watering your plants, some water evaporates into the air, increasing the RH in the room.
However, don't overwater your plants. Overwatering can lead to mold growth in the soil and roots of the plants that release into the air.
When purchasing your humidifier, check the manufacturer's specifications and match the model to the right room size. To calculate the volume of your room, measure the length, width, and height of the room. Multiply the figures by each other, and you come up with the total room volume.
For example, if the room is 5-feet x 5-feet x 8-feet, you need 5 x 5 x 8 = 200-square feet of output from your prospective humidifier. Many are capable of doing double that volume.
If you're setting up an air conditioner in your home, make sure you seal all the windows and doors to prevent air leaks.
Air cons and HVACs run in closed systems, and they lose efficiency with windows and doors open around the house. Running a humidifier in the room also requires you to shut the windows and doors.
Make sure you control the humidity in the room by monitoring the RH level. Nurseries sell hygrometers to monitor the relative humidity inside greenhouses and propagation rooms. You can also use these devices to measure the RH in rooms in your home.
Keep the RH between 50% to 55% for the best results. Don't let the RH get over 60%, as it leads to enhanced mold growth and more dust mite activity. Don't let it fall under 50%, or you're going to start to feel the effects of dry air again.
Notes – Most air conditioner models come with automatic dehumidifying functionality, but no humidifier function., Ensure you understand the features and functions of any air purification system before installing it in your home.
Before you set up any HVAC or portable air conditioning unit, get an independent test of the air quality in your home. MI&T offers you a complete air testing experience, giving you a comprehensive report of the status of the air in your residence.
We specialize in detecting the presence of mold in the air, and we can help you identify any infestations, wherever they are in your home. While we can't remove the mold if we find it, we can give you detailed instructions on doing it yourself.
MI&T gives you a baseline of your home's air quality before installing air-con, HVAC, or portable air conditioning. Call us back the following year, and we'll give you another report, allowing you to analyze the impact of improving the air quality in your home.