The level of humidity in your home will affect your health as well as the health of your home.  If you have asthma, allergies or have had respiratory infections, humidity that has been very high or very low is a contributing factor.  These factors will also have an impact on the condition of your home.

Humans are most comfortable and healthiest in an environment where the humidity is maintained at a level around 40% (Every home should have a hygrometer).

When levels drop below 20% humidity, it means the air is very dry.  There is an increased level of dust and allergens in the air, our skin becomes dry and you begin to get a lot of static in the air.  Dragging your feet on the carpet is sure to give someone a shock.  This is also hard on your home.  Wood starts to dry out, hardwood floors creek and wood in expensive cabinets and furniture starts to shrink.

When levels climb above 60% humidity, it means the air is very damp.  Humidity above 60% is ideal for the growth of mold which will start to grow within 48 hours.  Mold will irritate health concerns such as asthma, allergies and respiratory infections.  Mold will also deteriorate wood and over time weaken the structure of a home.

In today’s modern home a lot has been done to improve insulation and energy efficiency.  High efficiency furnaces, hot water heaters and fireplaces combined with new windows and doors built to seal up a house, means very little fresh air gets in.  During the winter (and summer if you have central air conditioning), you trap the air inside the home.  In our daily activities, bathing, cooking and even breathing you introduce humidity into your home.  Consider how much humidity you introduce into your home during that big family Christmas dinner.

If you notice your homes humidity above 50% (remember every home should have a hygrometer) it is time to take action!  Newer homes have a built in whole house ventilation system.  In this case turning it on will remove some of that humidity.  If you don’t have that luxury, running your kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans will help remove the stale damp air.  Both of these solutions work very well in the cooler winter months.   During a damp summer the outside air can be even more humid than the inside air.  Ventilation alone may not help, consider getting a dehumidifier for the house.  A dehumidifier removes moisture from the air eliminating the possibility of mold growing in your home.

When you notice the humidity is below 30% it is time to take action.  Most homes are built with a central humidifier on the furnace.  If you have one make sure it is clean and functioning properly.  This however, is not my favorite way to add humidity to a home (see my blog on humidifiers for more information).  Run portable humidifiers, in most cases one console unit is enough but smaller units can be used to humidify isolated areas.  You can also run those bathroom fans for a shorter period of time after a bath or shower.  In this case putting moisture back into the air is good for your health and your home.

Winter creates another challenge with humidity.  When temperatures become very cold (in Alberta it is not uncommon to have temperatures below -30c) to much humidity in these conditions can create moisture problems which includes condensation and frost on your windows, condensation and mold on your exterior walls and frost build up in your attic.  When you hear extreme cold weather is on its way turn your humidity settings down.  20% or lower may be necessary to prevent the build up of condensation and frost.  Prior to a cold snap it is also a great idea to check all your exterior windows and doors to ensure they are properly sealed, fix weather stripping as required.   Also check all your exterior intake vents for blockage and clean as if needed.  Your Furnace and HRV if your house has one needs to get fresh air from outside.  If you have an HVR check the filters and clean as required.

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I was recently called out to do a mold investigation at a home.  The homeowner was sick and had to move out of the home.  The homeowner knew the home had humidity levels of above 80% for most of the summer but unfortunately did not know the effects the humidity was having on their health and their home, so they did not take action.  They would clean the mold off the walls and  hard surfaces when it became visible and when the humidity dropped, the mold became dormant and stopped appearing on the walls.  The mold is in the carpets, the curtains and furniture waiting for any amount of moisture to start growing again.  Shortly after the investigation a family member accidently overflowed the tub in the bathroom soaking part of the carpet.  Even after attempting to dry the carpet, the mold was visibly growing on the walls in the bathroom within hours of the spill.

A little education could have prevented a lot of heart ache for this homeowner, which is why I am sharing this information with you today.  If you think your home may be making you or a loved one sick, give me a call.  I may not find any problems and you will have peace of mind.  If I do find something that needs attention, your family’s health will benefit from taking action on the problems I may find.