Health concerns have turned homeowners’ attention to the often-ignored indoor humidity range.
Health and wellness have seized center stage in the homebuilding world. This year’s coronavirus scare and lockdown made indoor air quality a top priority even among those who hadn’t thought much about it before, and most industry pros expect it will still be a priority after the crisis. Not surprisingly, homebuyers are paying more attention to their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
For health and wellness, the first things most people think about are ventilation and air filtration. While these are of course crucial, they’re not the entire story.
The often-ignored element is humidity control. In the past, few homeowners asked for it because they considered humidity a comfort issue. But the truth is that indoor humidity has a major impact on human health.
We all understand how it affects comfort—most of us prefer a hot/dry day to a hot/humid one. In fact, there’s a concept known as the comfort window, a humidity range of 30% to 60% where people feel comfortable regardless of the temperature (according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers). That range is also the ideal one for your home and your health.
When it comes to the home, high indoor humidity for an extended period will encourage surface mold. On the other hand, if the air is too dry, hardwood floors can start to check and crack.
The same principle applies to health and wellness. Elevated humidity raises the chance of airborne mold, bacteria, and viruses. Too little moisture in the air can cause dry and cracked skin, making it easier for bacteria and viruses to get absorbed into the body. Dry air also constricts breathing passages, making people with asthma more prone to an attack.
You can ensure optimal indoor humidity by integrating a whole-house humidifier or dehumidifier into the HVAC system. It’s a financial investment, but we think the returns make it worth considering. Let’s look at each one.
A humidifier can earn its keep for a new home in any dry climate, whether the desert Southwest or the Upper Midwest. Northern states can get really parched—on a cold January day, a Midwestern home can have an indoor relative humidity of 14% to 16%, which is drier than Death Valley’s annual average of 22%. A whole-house humidifier will keep that home’s air in the health and comfort window by vaporizing up to 40 gallons of water per day. (A portable humidifier only does a gallon or two, which hardly makes a dent in the problem.)
Those homeowners will also be able to lower the thermostat a few degrees without noticing. One major HVAC manufacturer estimates that reduced heating costs can pay for the equipment in as little as five years.
In humid areas—the Southeast, Northwest, and even the Northeast—homeowners may want to consider a dehumidifier. It can be a hard sell in tropical places like Florida where people rely on the air conditioner to keep the home dry. That’s fine on a steamy summer day, but when temperatures drop to the 70s (in spring or fall, for instance), humidity often stays elevated. Homeowners who use the air conditioner during these times pay more for electricity and end up walking around in sweaters. A whole-house dehumidifier solves the problem.
While the comfort benefits are important, remember that regardless of climate this equipment will keep everyone in the home healthier. That’s something we all want.
One more thing. Ventilation, filtration and humidity control will be most effective in a home with low natural air leakage—a home that has been carefully sealed to prevent infiltration from the outside as well as from attics, basements, and garages. That’s a good argument for choosing a quality professional builder for your new custom home.