Every mom and dad has their own volume of tips and tricks to soothe a fussy baby. When the tried-and-true parenting solutions don’t work, though, you may have an issue with the air quality and humidity in your home.
Air that’s too dry in the winter can cause bloody noses, respiratory problems, sore throats, dry skin and other health issues for babies and children. Air that’s too moist can create musty smells and promote mite and mold infestations — and a clammy and uncomfortable environment, which no one likes.
So what can you do? First, let’s get to know a little more about humidity.
The properties of humidity
What is humidity exactly? Here’s the scientific explanation:
“The term humidity generally refers to the amount of this water vapor in the atmosphere,” writes Jeffrey Hovis, a science and operations officer with the National Weather Service, at ScientificAmerican.com. “Each atmospheric gas has its own vapor pressure, a measure of the number of molecules present at a given temperature. The vapor pressure of water thus measures the amount of water vapor in the air. The saturation vapor pressure is the vapor pressure when liquid water begins to condense. Relative humidity is determined by using the actual vapor pressure divided by the saturation vapor pressure."
Simply put, humidity is the relative amount of water vapor or moisture in the air. When the air lacks humidity, it feels dry. Conversely, when a high level of humidity is present, the air feels moist, sticky and heavy.
Maintaining optimal levels of humidity in a home goes a long way toward making life more comfortable for its residents — adults, toddlers and babies alike.
Maintaining comfortable levels
The ideal level of indoor humidity is between 30 to 60 percent, with 45 to 55 percent being the sweet spot. Anything above 55 percent would be considered a high level of humidity.
How do seasons affect humidity? The summer months tend to have higher levels of humidity as the air tends to hold more moisture, while the air in the winter holds less water.
If you see moisture droplets collecting anywhere in your home — windows, window sills, walls or pipes — it may be a sign of a humidity problem. Dry the condensation as it occurs, but work to determine the source of the excess moisture.
Tip: Test your indoor air with a humidity meter, which costs about $10 to $50 at home improvement stores.
Dangers of poor indoor air quality
Some of the specific problems humidity can cause for homes and their residents include:
- Mold and mildew growth
- Damp spots, rot and structural damage
- Uncomfortable environment indoors
- Aggravation of allergies, asthma and other respiratory issues
Quality indoor air, free of toxic elements or excess levels of moisture, helps keep residents safe. Too much or too little humidity can promote the growth and spread of bacteria, viruses and fungi. Poor indoor air quality can also lead to adverse health effects like nausea, wheezing, fatigue, rashes and more.
Babies, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems tend to be impacted more dramatically by poor indoor air quality.
Tip: Change your furnace filter regularly and have your air ducts cleaned to help keep your HVAC system running smoothly and your indoor air quality high.
Managing moisture levels
A variety of factors can affect indoor air quality and humidity — from the venting of your appliances to the functioning of your entire HVAC system. The EPA recommends taking the following actions to help deal with high levels of moisture indoors:
- Make sure appliances are properly vented, preferably to the exterior of your home.
- Run air conditioners and dehumidifiers to remove moisture from the air when needed.
- Engage a bathroom fan when showering, or crack open a window.
- Turn on exhaust fans when cooking or, again, simply open a window.
Indoor air too dry? One of the most effective ways to introduce more moisture into the air is to use a humidifier — for example, to improve the quality of air in a nursery. You can purchase a unit at a home store or online for as little as $20. Just make sure to regularly clean your humidifier per the manufacturer’s instructions or mold and bacteria can grow inside.
Installing a whole house humidifier offers another solution, though one that is likely best left to the pros unless you have advanced handyman experience.
Other DIY options for increasing moisture indoors include air drying clothes and dishes, putting metal or ceramic bowls of water on radiators or registers, and purchasing houseplants.
If you need help handling humidity issues in your D.C.-area home, call the HVAC experts at John C. Flood. We also have licensed plumbers on staff that can help diagnose and fix any leaks or other problems that may be causing moisture problems in your home.