Home Comfort | November 6, 2019
When we think about indoor comfort, temperature usually comes to mind first. As seasons change, thermostats adjust accordingly to keep everyone comfortable and cozy all year long. But what about humidity? What role does the humidity in your house play in overall air quality and comfort? And what is the ideal indoor humidity level?
Find out why humidity is an important part of air quality, how to control the humidity level in your home, and some of the top benefits of maintaining ideal humidity.
Home Humidity Levels in Alberta
The Alberta climate is known for its extremes — from bitter cold in winter to hot, dry air in the summer months. One thing you won’t find is a lot of humidity. Most parts of Alberta could be classified as semi-arid, but there is a wide variety in temperature and precipitation across the province, with generally warmer and drier conditions in the south compared to the north.
When It Comes to Humidity, It’s All Relative—Until It Isn’t!
Did you know that, on average, January has the highest relative humidity in Edmonton? This may come as a surprise, especially since most people associate high humidity with warm temperatures. The key is understanding the difference between absolute humidity and relative humidity:
- Absolute humidity describes the amount of water vapour in a mass of air, usually in grams per kilogram.
- Relative humidity is the percentage of water vapour present in the air compared to the maximum it could hold under the same temperature.
When we see a relative humidity of 100%, this means that the air is completely saturated with water vapour at that temperature. In Edmonton, a relative humidity of 60% in January, where the average low temperature dips to -16 degrees Celsius, won’t feel the same as 60% relative humidity in July, where the average high temperature is around 23 degrees Celsius.
So, where does Alberta fit on the humidity map? Well, compared to our neighbours along the Pacific coast or even those living near the Great Lakes in Ontario and Quebec, Albertans deal with dry conditions most of the year— relatively and absolutely! This is why it’s helpful to boost indoor humidity levels, particularly since long winters keep people inside for many months of the year.
Benefits of Maintaining Ideal Home Humidity Levels
Sometimes humidity gets a bad rap. Excess moisture from high humidity is associated with wild hair (think Monica from Friends when they go to Barbados), damp towels that never dry, or, more seriously, with moisture problems such as mold and mildew.
But when the proper humidity level in your home is achieved, you’ll enjoy some great benefits. Home humidifiers can even help with colds! Additional benefits of optimal indoor humidity include:
- More effective and efficient heating—a lack of moisture can make the air in your home feel cooler, whereas humidified air lets you turn down the thermostat and still feel comfortable
- Improved skin quality with less dryness, cracking, and irritation
- Reduction in the spread of viruses and other infections throughout your home’s air
- Symptom improvement for family members suffering from respiratory conditions such as allergies or asthma
- Improved moisture levels keep nasal membranes healthy and help to reduce snoring and nosebleeds
- Increased lifespan and protection of wood furniture, artwork, musical instruments and hardwood flooring
What Is the Optimal Home Humidity Level?
Health Canada recommends an indoor relative humidity between 30 and 55%. It may be easier to maintain humidity within the ideal range during the summer months, but it’s difficult to achieve proper indoor humidity in the winter.
Any moist indoor air you may have is often cycled out of your home by the increased air exchange from your furnace or heat recovery system as it heats your home. This is where a whole-home humidifier can help.
Compared to a portable unit which only humidifies one room at a time (and needs regular refilling), a whole-home humidifier works with your furnace and delivers humidity throughout your home using the air handler or furnace fan. Most modern thermostats, such as the Honeywell VisionPRO IAQ or the Nest Smart Thermostat, control both temperature and humidity levels, making it easy to maintain an ideal humidity level in your house.
While it might be tempting to blast the warm, humid air and create your own tropical paradise at home, wintertime humidity levels should be maintained around 25-35% to help prevent condensation on windows. When used appropriately, a whole-home humidifier is an important component of your home’s HVAC system, which may also include your furnace, air conditioner, and air cleaner/purifier.
Type of Whole-Home Humidifiers
There are two main types of whole-house humidifiers: bypass and steam.
- A bypass humidifier is an inexpensive humidifier unit that connects to your return ductwork, a water line, and a bypass duct that draws warm air from your HVAC unit to heat the water and produces moisture which is circulated through your home. It may be more difficult to achieve consistent and precise indoor humidity levels since it only runs when the furnace is on.
- A steam humidifier is more expensive, but heats water within the unit itself, producing sterile steam which is then delivered throughout your home via the air handler or furnace fan. It delivers humidity more effectively and efficiently, and works as needed—not just when the furnace is running through a heat cycle.
Regular Maintenance for Optimal Indoor Air Quality
Maintaining home humidity levels is an important aspect of a comfortable, healthy living environment. And for families who are relying on humidity in their house to help with respiratory conditions like asthma or allergies, regular maintenance and cleaning is essential. If you add a whole-home humidifier to your HVAC system, make sure your regular maintenance routine includes your furnace, air conditioner, ducts, and humidifier.