Nebraskans tend to be tougher than most because we have excessive extremes in temperature and relative humidity that few experience. We are used to the extremes and take them in stride. We patiently wait for the uncomfortable hot or cold temperatures to go away as seasons change. We are resilient as we wear warmer clothing or adjust as necessary. Bring it on!
At the same time, it’s not necessary to suffer because of our weather conditions. We can be extremely comfortable by taking advantage of great options in controlling temperatures and relative humidity. We can easily improve our indoor air quality to improve our health. It’s not that difficult at all.
Since its winter, let’s talk about something that is essential to improving our health and is often ignored. That of course is maintaining proper relative humidity levels. It can be confusing without some important insight.
The relative humidity is a moving target; especially in Nebraska with our very dry winters. The humidity in the outdoor air sets the stage for our indoor air quality which is naturally drier in the winter. Last month we experienced outside relative humidity of around 20% with temperature in the teens.
That outside air at 20% relative humidity was drawn inside through infiltration. Excessive air infiltration makes it difficult to attain proper relative humidity levels. It helps to seal the home or business up tighter to get rid of air leaks. Air brought in through leaks that are heated lowers the humidity even more. The furniture, carpet, and other hygroscopic items naturally removed moisture. Without a humidifier, the result would have been indoor air at a relative humidity level of approximately 15% or so. That’s uncomfortable!
The worst-case scenario would be not having a humidifier or having one that has low output. To fully understand the levels, a hygrometer will indicate relative humidity levels with manual or digital readings.
The textbook relative humidity range to promote good health is between 40% and 60%. That’s the best range for healthy skin and lungs. It’s also better for our furniture and other household items. Additionally, there are fewer allergenic mites and fungal populations at that level. It’s the best range to prevent off-gassing of formaldehyde and other pollutants in the air. The list goes on and on for the reasons maintaining 40% to 60% relative humidity is important.
Below the 40% to 60% level is when your nose, throat, and skin feel dry and scratchy. You are more susceptible to diseases like cold and flu. Dry air is dangerous for allergy and asthma sufferers since it aggravates their symptoms. Long-term exposure causes lung damage and skin gets that wrinkled leather effect!
Now here is where it gets confusing for controlling humidity in cold climates! The indoor humidity should not exceed 35% when outside temperatures are 10 to 20 degrees or ice will form on the inside of windows. That is of course below the recommended 40% to 60% relative humidity!
Nebraska winters are cold so the solution is to control relative humidity levels closely. Forty percent relative humidity at 40 degrees is the recommended safe level.
Maintaining the proper humidity levels can be challenging as temperatures fluctuate quickly. Adjusting levels of humidity takes time and is not accomplished as quickly as adjusting temperatures. That’s just the nature of the beast!
It’s important to adjust humidity levels to follow the outside temperature. Since it is a moving target, it’s best to use a control that automatically adjusts levels according to outside temperatures.
The Honeywell Prestige IAQ is a great example of a state-of-the-art thermostat that works well to control temperatures and humidity. Trained technicians can match it properly to heating and cooling equipment.
Most humidifiers are evaporative or steam designs. They are sized according to the square footage of a home. Proper sizing is essential to allow proper humidity output. A good steady stream of humidity with the proper airflow works best.
An average cost for an installed name-brand humidifier ranges from $425 to $700. This is for a good-quality evaporative humidifier that seems to perform well. Additional controls are extra.
In addition to the health benefits of maintaining proper humidity levels, another benefit is it can even save substantially on heating bills. It can allow temperature levels to feel 3 to 5 degrees warmer!
We can control our destiny by the choices we make. Staying healthy in Nebraska takes extra planning and effort, but it’s worth it.