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better air begins with knowledge

Understanding Relative Humidity

Article Image: "Understanding  Relative Humidity"

Balanced humidity is a key ingredient in creating a healthy and comfortable environment within the walls of your home. In general, humidity, which is defined as the amount of water vapor in the air, most often refers to a measurement of "relative humidity."

Dehumidifiers, which absorb excess moisture in overly humid air, and humidifiers, which work to inject moisture into very dry air, can help you monitor and maintain your optimal level of indoor humidity year-round. Because the relative humidity can directly correlate with allergy problems, house and building damage, the presence of pests, and your overall comfort level, it's important to understand this concept. The knowledge will help you make the most out of your dehumidifier or humidifier usage.


Repercussions Abound

Indoor humidity that is either too high or too low can cause handfuls of problems for your health and your home. When the indoor relative humidity is below 30%—extremely dry air—the likelihood of the spread of cold and flu viruses increases. Too-dry air can also irritate and inflame nose and respiratory passages, dry out skin, and wreak havoc on the foundation of your home by causing walls and ceilings to crack, wood floors to separate, and door and window frames to shrink.

On the contrary, when the relative humidity is above 50%—damp and moist air—airborne allergens such as mold spores, dust mites, and bacteria thrive and multiply quickly, aggravating the symptoms of allergy-sufferers. Excessively humid environments are also desirable breeding grounds for cockroaches, termites, and other annoying pests. Moreover, too-high humidity can spawn musty odors, accelerate wood rot and decay, stain ceilings and walls, and cause paint to flake and peel.

Comfort-wise, when the relative humidity is high in a hot environment, you can feel much hotter than the current temperature because your perspiration cannot evaporate into air already brimming with moisture. When the relative humidity is low in a cold environment, you'll feel colder than the current temperature because the dry air will quickly whisk away any moisture on your skin.

A Formula for Relative Humidity

In mathematical terms, relative humidity is the gram-per-cubic-meter measure of the water vapor in the air divided by the gram-per-cubic-meter measure of the maximum amount of moisture the air can hold at the current temperature (also known as saturation, or 100% relative humidity). The resulting quotient is multiplied by 100 to produce a percentage figure, the relative humidity. Nowadays, digital humidity gauges called hygrometers can quickly give you an accurate reading of the current humidity level in your home, saving you the time it would take to tackle that tricky math equation.

It's All About Balance

To avoid the air quality and comfort problems inherent with extremely low or high relative humidity, it's best to maintain a balanced measurement. Ideally, the relative humidity in a home should fall between 45 and 50 percent. This means that the surrounding air is holding only half of the maximum amount of moisture it can retain.

At this level, dust mites cannot survive, mold spores cannot reproduce, and household pests, which prefer to live in highly humid environments, are driven away. The air is moist enough so as not to irritate your skin, throat, and breathing passages as well as weaken the physical foundation of your home. This moisture level also lessens the risk of foundation problems related to high humidity.

Simplifying Humidity Control

The dehumidifiers and humidifiers on the market today allow you to easily maintain the right level of relative humidity in your home. Models equipped with built-in humidistats that can be controlled digitally and/or manually help you quickly adjust the relative humidity level to suit your needs.

Some built-in humidistats can automate the adjustment process of setting the humidity for the times you're not around the unit. For example, the DeLonghi DD45P Dehumidifier allows you to program the humidity conditions upon which the unit will start, stop, or delay operation automatically.

High-capacity dehumidifiers and humidifiers that collect and store large amounts of water can reduce the number of times you'll need to empty the water tank on a weekly or even monthly basis. Read our Dehumidifier Buying Guide or Humidifier Buying Guide and browse our information about dehumidifiers and humidifiers for help in choosing a model that will work for you.

Promoting Health and Comfort

Maintaining the right relative humidity can make all the difference in curbing symptoms in an allergy-prone household and in keeping critters at bay. This simple practice will also help to ensure the quality of your home's foundation while making your family feel healthy and comfortable indoors. To review some of our most popular dehumidifiers, check out PrimeAire dehumidifiers or a Santa Fe dehumidifier model.

Still Have Questions?

For more information on specific products and ways to improve your indoor environment, review our extensive product listings and other educational materials. Not sure what's best for you? We can take the guess work out of decision-making. Contact our product experts toll free at 1 (800) 934-9194 for a detailed consultation. We want to help make your environment a healthy one.

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