As temperatures get lower during the colder winter season, humidity levels naturally drop. This is because cold air can’t retain as much moisture as warm air. A comfortable indoor humidity level during winter is around 45 percent. When this dry winter air infiltrates your home, it can cause your indoor humidity levels to drop to levels as low as 15 percent. When humidity levels fall this low, it affects our body’s immunity to bacteria, viruses, and allergens. Breathing in dry air thins out the protective layer of mucus in our nasal passages, throat, and lungs. Without this protective fluid, it’s easier for our airways to become swollen, irritated or infected.
At Minnick’s, we help Maryland homeowners improve the quality of their home’s indoor air, and dry air is one of the most common conditions we are asked to remedy. If you’re concerned about the dryness of your home’s air, by the end of this article you will learn how to identify the causes and symptoms of dry air, and what you can do to fix it.
How to know if the air in your house is too dry
Unless you own a hygrometer (a thermometer like tool used to measure humidity levels), it can be difficult to immediately tell if your indoor air is too dry. We find that most homeowners are aware of the symptoms of dry air long before realizing that they have a dry air problem. To help you identify if your home’s air may be suffering from dryness, here are some of the most common symptoms from dry indoor air:
- Static Electricity: Do you ever get zapped when you touch someone or something? When the air is too dry, static electricity begins to build up. That shock of static electricity could be a sign your home’s air is too dry.
- Dry Lips and Skin: If you feel like your skin and lips are overly dry, this could be further indications that the air in your home does not have enough moisture. Your skin contains water, so when your home lacks humidity, your skin will start to dry out as well. Overly dry air can also cause flare-ups of existing skin conditions, such as eczema and acne.
- Stuffy Nose and Nosebleeds: Air that’s low in moisture leaches water from your body. When you breathe in air that’s low in humidity, it causes your nasal passages to dry up. As a direct result, your body will start producing more mucus to compensate, which can leave you with a stuffy nose. When the inside of your nose becomes too dry, it can also cause nosebleeds. If you have frequent nosebleeds at home, this is a strong indication your home’s air could be too dry.
Now that you understand how dry air affects us and what symptoms to look out for, we will now move on to the primary reason your indoor air becomes dry.
What causes dry indoor air in your home?
Dry air is a natural byproduct of cold weather. As temperatures decrease, the outdoor air drastically loses its ability to hold onto water. When it becomes colder, you’re also more likely to turn on your home’s heating system. These two conditions together contribute to why your home’s air is too dry.
Most homes aren’t as insulated as they should be, so when you’re running your central heating system, you may be losing your conditioned heated air through cracks and walls. This lost air is then replaced in circulation with the cold and dry air from the outside. Unless there is enough moisture added from other sources like cooking, bathing, etc. the air will continue to get drier.
Your home needs to completely replace the indoor air with fresh air from the outside, at least eight times per day. However, if you’re losing all your conditioned air then there will be an imbalance of dry air present in your home. While there can be many sources for where your home is losing heat (walls, windows, cracks, etc.) the primary source for your dry indoor air is always the outside environment.
Knowing that the outdoors is the culprit for drying out your home, we can now discuss some solutions for improving your indoor air quality.
Solving for dry indoor air in your home
The simplest and quickest way to improve the dry indoor air conditions is to immediately add moisture to your home’s air. There a few ways to do this, the most common being the use of a humidifier. If you’re not ready to leap and buy a humidifier, some other simple home-made solutions are:
- Placing plants in a dry room, spraying them at least once every day with water.
- Boil water on your stovetop to release excess moisture into your home.
- Leave your bathroom door open while showering.
- Let damp clothes dry out in rooms with dry air.
- Place wet sponges in rooms and let them dry out.
Any of these solutions above will help add moisture to your home’s air, however until you limit outdoor air from infiltrating your home, you will have to continuously repeat these methods to replace the moisture that’s drawn out of the air by the cold weather. For this reason, Minnick’s recommends sealing air leaks as the most effective solution for dry indoor air.
By finding and sealing the places where dry air is entering your home, your HVAC system will be able to more effectively keep your home’s humidity levels under control without much intervention from you. A humidifier will provide relief for the moment, but it’s essentially a band-aid. If you want to permanently solve your dry heat issue, you will need to assess how well your home is air sealed and insulated.
How much air is your home losing to the outdoors?
Professional HVAC tools such as a blower door are required to pinpoint exactly where air is escaping and entering your home. If you’re a Maryland homeowner concerned about the quality of your home’s air, Minnick’s can work with you to find and fix all your hidden cracks, holes, and other sources of energy loss. Customers of BGE, Pepco, DPL, SMECO, & Potomac Edison are also eligible to receive rebates towards fixing any found sources of energy loss.
Wonder how much air leaks and other home performance problems are costing you on your utility bill? You can use our free online energy calculator to see exactly how much money you could be saving by fixing these issues.