Dry Ice: Managing Humidity in Your Home
Most people know the radically different effects humidity can cause; in Arizona, a 90 degree day and you would be dry as a bone, but 90% in Miami and your clothes will likely be damp before you reach your car in the morning. Proper humidity is critical to our health and comfort, and it is important to manage it in the place we spend most of our lives: our home.
Before torrential rains took over Longview and the rest of Southwest Washington, we had a streak of bone-chilling days and nights; as a result, there was no humidity at all (freezing temperatures solidify water molecules in the air, leaving the atmosphere completely dry). All of the air’s moisture took the form of frost, leaving no moisture for our bodies, which can wreak havoc on areas such as the skin and throat. Dry air removes moisture from the places your body need it the most, aggravating or causing soreness, dry mouth, and cracking of the skin.
Conversely, too much humidity can be a problem as well, particularly in hotter months when it can aid mold and fungus to grow inside the home. An air conditioner removes some moisture as a side effect of cooling, but it is unreliable for this purpose because AC operates based solely on temperature, not humidity levels.
Summer humidity may be difficult to imagine as we head into the throes of winter, but these are two sides of the same coin and need to be considered as part of the same problem. According to D. MacPhaul and C. Etter of the National Institute of Building Sciences, “HVAC systems that positively pressurize a building space by supplying unconditioned or only partially conditioned outside air will avoid infiltration of outside air through the building envelope. However, this same situation can result in moisture loads inside the building that exceed the dehumidification capabilities of the HVAC system. One of the most significant causes of moisture accumulation in existing buildings in hot, humid climates is an overemphasis on ventilation at the expense of proper dehumidification.”
Essentially, the take-away message here is that your HVAC system should be designed with controlling humidity in mind. Unfortunately, there are two factors that prevent most home HVAC systems from efficiently controlling humidity. First is equipment. It is certainly possible to buy a stand-alone humidifier or dehumidifier that sits in a room and must be operated separately; the problem with these is that they are often unsightly, loud, and work only in a small area.
To effectively take control of your home’s humidity, an integrated HVAC system is needed, and a reliable HVAC service can assess your home and come up with the best possible solution. This ensures that a “whole house” mindset is applied, not just a specific area of the home. As contractor Kevin O’Neill states, “[A] large part of the problem with high humidity levels is caused by the coupling of uncontrolled areas external to the living area with the living area itself. Thus, if the crawlspace has high humidity levels, that moisture will be prone to infiltrate into the living space through cracks and holes in the building envelope. The floor over a crawlspace often has no vapor retarder to slow moisture movement into the occupied spaces.”
The second issue calls back to the phrase used earlier: “reliable HVAC service.” The best HVAC system with integrated humidity-control in the world does not mean much if improperly installed. One humidity nightmare was discovered in a Hawaiian hotel: “The building’s HVAC system failed to fully dehumidify the outside air it provided to the building. In addition, the HVAC systems continuously pulled moist outside air into the building through the building envelope, because of design and construction defects. If the HVAC system had been properly designed and constructed, these problems would have been avoided” (MacPhaul and Etter).
The control of your home’s humidity levels, regardless of season, is a battle you can win, and ensure the health and comfort of a family that they may not have experienced in years.
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