Household humidifiers can make people feel more comfortable in their homes. Humidifiers can help to relieve dry skin, some symptoms related to colds, and even some respiratory conditions such as asthma. (The use of a humidifier for any health issues always should be discussed with your doctor.) Here's how to tell whether you could benefit from adding humidity to your home, as well as some options for how to add it.
What Is a Humidifier?
A humidifier is a machine that raises the amount of water vapor in the air in an indoor living space.
Symptoms of Low Humidity
Dry air can lead to dry skin, itchy eyes, and irritated nasal passages. It also can cause a bloody nose or an itchy throat, and it can aggravate symptoms of the common cold and other respiratory ailments. Plus, low humidity in the air can increase static electricity, which you'll feel in your clothes and hair and on furniture and carpeting.
Raising the humidity level usually will reduce or alleviate these symptoms if you can get it up to a comfortable level. But raising it only a marginal amount might not have any effect on the symptoms.
Measuring Humidity Levels
In a home environment, humidity is expressed as a percentage. The standard recommended humidity range for comfort and air quality is between 30 and 50 percent. Humidity levels lower than 30 percent can be uncomfortably dry while levels higher than 50 percent can promote bacterial and mold growth along with other problems in the home.
Humidity is typically measured with a simple device called a hygrometer. You can pick up a hygrometer at a hardware store or home center and use it to measure the humidity levels of any area of your house. With a hygrometer and some experimentation, you should be able to maintain desired humidity levels.
Options for Adding Humidity
Humidifiers come in several different types and a range of capacities. Small humidifiers, such as vaporizers and old-fashioned impeller humidifiers, are best for small spaces and limited use. This could include humidifying a room overnight for a sick person for added comfort.
Vaporizers typically produce steam, which is cooled before being blown into the air. Cool-mist humidifiers often use ultrasonic mechanisms to create a cool mist of vapor. Humidifiers for large areas include evaporators, which blow air through a water-soaked pad, and whole-house humidifiers, which inject water vapor into the ductwork of a forced-air heating system.
Considerations for Wood in the Home
It's a law of nature that wood expands when it's humid and contracts when it's not. In fact, if you really can't bear the sight of gaps in wood flooring or creaky floorboards in the wintertime, you probably should choose a different flooring material. Maintaining a high enough level of humidity throughout the dry season to prevent shrinkage is simply not feasible, and it wastes a lot of electricity.
In terms of construction materials, if wood parts spent some time in your climate (and in your house) before they were installed, chances are they'll be sufficiently acclimatized to withstand seasonal humidity changes without significant cracking and shrinkage. It's when you import woods directly from humid areas into dry environments that you most often run into trouble.
Wood musical instruments, such as violins and guitars, also present a dilemma. If you start humidifying them, then you might have to keep humidifying them for the life of the instruments. This is because the wood becomes acclimated to having a certain level of humidity and will likely crack if it unexpectedly dries out. That means you can't forget to maintain the humidification system at all times. However, if an instrument makes it through a dry spell without supplemental humidity, odds are the wood will be strong enough to survive the dryness each year without cracking. Adding moderate general humidity to a home shouldn't affect a wood instrument either way.