Humidity is more than just about our comfort. For the most part, we know how to keep things fairly even, but sometimes we simply let our indoor humidity get a bit out of control. It’s certainly good to know exactly what can happen if our homes have too much or too little humidity. It’s especially important to note just how harmful high humidity can be to our health.
What is Humidity?
In a nutshell, humidity is a measurement of how damp the air is or isn’t in any given environment. Your air isn’t just air – it contains moisture in varying degrees depending on the temperature. The higher the air’s temperature, the more water the air can hold. Many things can contribute to indoor humidity: our own perspiration, showering, washing and drying anything, cooking, you name it.
Does Indoor Humidity Matter?
Absolutely. We often measure humidity in two ways: absolute humidity and relative humidity. Absolute humidity is a measurement of how much water is in the air depending on its temperature. Relative humidity, however, is a percentage measurement of the humidity in relation to the maximum humidity for that temperature.
The most common measurement for our homes is relative humidity, and it’s preferable to keep it between 25% and 55%. Problems arise when our homes’ humidity levels dip below 25%, or rise above 55%. Considering we humans can spend up to 90% of our time indoors, it is absolutely critical to keep an eye on the relative humidity of the environment around us.
How Does Humidity Affect Us?
From a basic biological standpoint, we respond to humidity via perspiration. If the air is warm enough to be saturated with water vapor, our sweat is less likely to evaporate. On the flip side, when the air is cold, our sweat evaporates quickly. In essence, our bodies have an immediate and direct response to the humidity around us.
But because we have such a direct response to humidity, we often overlook the fact that our bodies can have indirect responses. It gets even worse when we leave the normal threshold for relative humidity, because we don’t necessarily associate humidity with our health and well-being.
But Can Humidity be Harmful?
Without a doubt, high levels of relative humidity – especially if exposed for a prolonged period of time – has an incredibly harmful effects on us.
Notably, high humidity levels can affect allergies and complicate respiratory diseases brought on by certain biological agents such as mites and mildew. Mold, mildew, and mites all thrive in environments that are high in humidity. We all know how deadly certain molds can be. Black mold can be incredibly damaging to almost all human functions, affecting your respiratory system, circulation, mental faculties, and more.
Just as scarily perhaps, high levels of relative humidity affects the concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in your home. VOCs are significant, because prolonged exposure to them leads to terrible health conditions such as eczema, nervous system damage, and cancer. This is especially true for babies and children.
How does High Humidity Affect VOCs?
Humidity affects the presence of VOCs in your home a number of ways. We typically use activated carbon in our homes to filter out unwanted and dangerous VOCs from entering our air. High levels of relative humidity, however, significantly reduces the performance of these activated carbon filters. This has the effect of letting in more VOCs than normal, certainly a terrible consequence of high humidity.
Perhaps more alarmingly, an increase in humidity also increases the concentration of VOCs. Volatile organic compounds are nearly omnipresent in our daily lives via the chemicals used to treat common household items. They exist in paints, carpeting, composite wood, upholstery, air fresheners, etc. Your own baby’s crib could be a hotbed of VOCs and toxins from the pressed wood it was built with, to the glue it’s held together with, and with the paints it’s decorated with. When the relative humidity increases in temperature, these VOCs are released in higher amounts from these different sources.
This means that a high humidity not only allows more VOCs in, but allows more chemical off-gassing to occur. Definitely horrible news for your family’s health.
How to Prevent These Problems?
Maintaining a healthy balance of humidity in your home is ideal and relatively easy to do. Getting fresh air into your home is simply the best. The more your air circulates, the cooler the temperature will be, and the less harmful toxins will stick around.
Using a dehumidifier also helps in keeping moisture at the right levels. This definitely helps prevent sections of your home getting too damp, and thus mold and mildew to develop.
Ionic purifiers can be incredibly effective in removing indoor air pollution from your home in general. With ionic purifiers actively working to remove VOCs, there’s little chance of them building up to dangerous levels and harming your family in the long run.
Combining all of these methods will help in preventing health problems due to high humidity now and in the future.