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A Whole-House Humidifier Can Improve the Air Quality Inside Your West Texas Home

Healthy indoor air quality, optimum comfort and proper indoor humidity; they’re all related. Even the energy expenses to keep your home heated during the winter are impacted by the amount of water vapor in the air, as is the amount of wear and tear on wooden structural components.

High humidity levels are mainly a factor in outdoor activities and primarily during the heat of summer. Low humidity, on the other hand, more often makes itself known indoors and during winter. Especially here in west Texas’ semi-arid climate, humidity levels really plunge when cold, dry winter winds sweep across the plains. Whole-house humidifiers can help make up the humidity deficit when Mother Nature fails to provide it.

Why So Dry?

Most people are aware that heat energy tends to naturally move from a warm zone into a colder zone. A similar phenomenon occurs with humidity. Dry winter air tends to draw the natural humidity that accumulates in the house outside, causing indoor humidity levels to equalize with the outdoors. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that relative humidity indoors should never drop below 25 percent in winter.

In addition to the effect of low outdoor humidity, the indoor household environment in winter also contributes to the problem. Forced-air gas furnaces utilized in the overwhelming majority of homes lower indoor humidity as air dried by the combustion process is circulated throughout the home. Some indoor method of replenishing water vapor in the air is usually required to maintain the minimum level for health, comfort and efficiency. In most cases, whole-house humidifiers are the most definitive option.  

What Dry Air Means to You

The consequences of sustained low indoor humidity range from simple annoyance to ongoing health issues and high operating costs. Here’s how humidity levels below the optimum typically manifest:

  • Physical symptoms - Dry throat, itchy skin, respiratory issues and sneezing are common. So are irritated eyes, cracked heels and other bodily reactions to insufficient water vapor in the air.  
  • Comfort issues - Dry air feels colder, that’s why air conditioners also extract humidity in addition to cooling the air. However, in winter, too much dryness can make an adequately warmed home feel cold.

    Studies have shown that indoor temperatures as high as 70 degrees can feel uncomfortable to the average person when humidity drops below the 30 percent level. When humidity is increased to 50 percent, the home again feels acceptably warm to occupants, even though the air temperature has not changed.
  • Communicable illnesses - For generations, it's been assumed that communicable viruses proliferated in wet or moist air. Instead, research revealed that most airborne viruses actually survive and thrive considerably longer in conditions of humidity below 30 percent. By merely raising indoor humidity to 43 percent and making no changes to temperature, researchers found that the transmission rate of cold and flu viruses was reduced from 70 percent to nearly 10 percent.
  • Higher costs - Because overly dry air doesn’t hold heat efficiently, the effectiveness of a furnace is reduced. In order to meet and maintain thermostat settings and keep occupants comfortable in dry conditions, the furnace must run extended "on" cycles, consuming more gas and increasing monthly energy costs.  
  • Structural issues - At humidity levels below 30 percent, wood shrinkage begins. Hardwood flooring, which tends to shrink in width instead of length, will start to show gaps between planks. Flooring may also become rough and splintery. Wooden cabinetry may also shrink so that doors do not remain closed properly and panels and doors may crack as well. 
  • Static shocks - Painful static shocks every time you touch a grounded object like a doorknob. These annoying zaps are a trademark of dry indoor air in winter. They’re generally alleviated by keeping indoor humidity consistently above 40 percent, which dissipates the static charge.   

Alternatives to Boost Indoor Humidity

  • Hold on to what you’ve got. Some humidity inside the house is naturally generated by activities such as bathing, cooking and even human respiration. Excessive use of exhaust fans in winter will take that moist air out through vents to be replaced by dry outdoor air that migrates into the home. Use exhaust fans only as needed to remove excess moisture. Placing exhaust fans on a timer to automatically shut them off is a good idea.
  • Air seal the home to prevent the infiltration of dry outdoor air through cracks and gaps in the structure. Moist indoor air will naturally migrate out into drier air through these openings, as well. Seal cracks and gaps with caulking and replace worn weatherstripping around doors and windows.
  • Consider portable room humidifiers. A portable humidifier that adds moisture to the air in specific areas such as a single bedroom can be helpful. These units require the user to fill the reservoir daily and require regular maintenance to inhibit algae and mold growth. Because air migrates throughout the entire structure, as long as the rest of the house remains in a state of low humidity, water vapor produced by a single-room humidifier will be continuously absorbed, limiting the unit's effectiveness.  

The Whole-House Option

Whole-house humidifiers treat the problem of low humidity inside the home on a large scale. Installed directly inside the HVAC ductwork, usually on the return side, a whole-house humidifier treats the flow of air moving through the ducts continuously. In the average home, that’s about 1,400 cubic feet of air per minute. Usually, the entire air volume of the house will circulate through the ductwork up to five times per day, ensuring the most comprehensive treatment of the humidity deficit.  

A whole-house humidifier receives water from a line permanently plumbed to an in-home water supply line. Excess water is drained off the unit by a drain line connected to a household drain or merged with the furnace condensate drain. The arrangement requires no daily service such as refilling the tank. Annual cleaning and checkup by a qualified service person is the only recommended service.  

Whole-house models utilize one of three methods to add humidity to the airflow in your ducts:

  • Simple absorbent pads are continuously saturated with clean supply water. Air flowing through the pads evaporates the moisture and carries it into the ductwork to be dispersed throughout the home.
  • Drum style humidifiers incorporate a rotating drum partially immersed in the water reservoir and covered with absorbent padding. As the drum slowly revolves, it picks up water and exposes it to the airflow in the duct, humidifying the air.
  • Panel humidifiers utilize a thin metal panel perforated with small holes and situated at an angle to the flow of duct air through the humidifier. A water valve at the top of the panel emits a thin film of water down the panel that rapidly evaporates into the airflow as air passes through the perforations. The level of humidification is controlled by the valve which meters the amount of water passing over the panel.  
  • Steam humidifiers are considered the gold standard in whole-house humidification. These units don't rely on evaporation, but instead produce steam directly and inject it into the airflow in precisely measured amounts to fine-tune home humidity. These high-capacity units are rated for homes with large square footage.

Humidity level in the home is precisely adjusted to the desired setting by the humidistat included in a whole-house system. Mounted on the wall in a central location inside the house just like a thermostat, a digital humidistat continuously senses indoor humidity and controls the function of the whole-house humidifier to raise or lower household humidity to achieve the desired setting.

For more information on utilizing whole-house humidifiers to improve indoor air quality, household comfort and heating efficiency, contact West Texas Comfort to locate a contractor near you.


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