Winter is also known as flu season, and in 2020 that’s a much bigger deal than usual. As the weather gets colder, homeowners and business owners are thinking more about indoor air quality. That means also considering how humidity affects virus transmission in your home or commercial space.
In this article, we’re focusing on controlling moisture to keep you healthy and safe when it’s cold outside. And, how you can use your heating and cooling system to do it.
For retail and dining businesses in and around York, PA, this is a big deal. Pretty soon, it’ll be too cold to host sales or tables outdoors. You need your customers and your employees to feel safe inside your establishment again. Humidity is an important factor in getting “the cleanest air on the block.”
We’ll briefly review how humidity changes with the seasons. Then, we’ll see how it affects indoor air quality. Finally, we’ll look into ways you can control it.
Humidity In The Summer Vs. Humidity In The Winter
In a nutshell: There’s more humidity in the summer than in the winter. That’s why the air feels dry when it’s cold out. Warm air can naturally hold more water than cold air. Cue the old cliché, “It’s not the heat. It’s the humidity.”
Overly moist air feels uncomfortable. It makes seasonal allergy symptoms worse because pollen and other allergens bond with the water droplets in the air. Then, they hang suspended instead of falling to the ground. That makes it much easier for you to breathe them in.
In the winter, the air dries out. Thanks to your heating system, however, it can become unnaturally dry.
Here’s what happens: Cold, dry air reaches your furnace. The system warms it but does not add humidity. Now, you have warm air that’s unnaturally dry. It dries out your skin and mucous membranes, which is why people get bloody noses in the winter. And, it can make it easier to catch the flu or other viruses.
Low Humidity and Viruses
We mentioned how high humidity causes allergens to hang in the air, where you can breathe them in. Well, the opposite occurs in the winter — which poses a very different indoor air quality problem. When the air is dry, nothing’s keeping those microorganisms in the air. But, viruses won’t just fall to the ground — they’ll spread further than in the summer.
Without water vapor to bond to, a particle someone exhales will fall to the ground, but not right away. Instead, it can travel much further than a few feet. This difference means a massive uptick in transmission rates. It happens outside and even worse indoors when the air, as we pointed out, gets unnaturally dry thanks to your heating and cooling system.
Meanwhile, those other symptoms — dry skin and cracking mucous membranes — are like chinks in your body’s armor. They’ll let in those tiny particles that otherwise didn’t have an entrance point.
So, what can you do about it?
Ideal Humidity Levels For Homes And Businesses In the Winter
Keeping the relative humidity in your home or businesses between 40 and 60 percent increases your indoor air quality and overall comfort. This strategy works in the winter and summer, but you’ll use different methods to maintain it, depending on the season.
Note that we’re talking about “relative” versus “absolute” humidity. “Absolute” is the total amount of water in the air. “Relative” is the more common measure — the one on your weather reports — and measures how much moisture there is versus how much the air can hold.
The air’s capacity changes with the temperature. Remember: Warm air holds more water vapor than cold air. So, using the percentage means you keep the same setting all year’ round.
In the winter, you often need to increase the moisture. In the summer, you work to remove it. Your first step is buying a humidistat, or getting a thermostat that gives you this reading as well. That way, you know what you’re dealing with.
DIY Ways To Increase Humidity In The Winter
We’ll start with some free and inexpensive strategies, particularly at home. If your relative humidity isn’t far below 40 percent, a few tweaks may do the trick.
This can be as simple as showering with the bathroom door open or making tea on the stove instead of coffee. In both cases, you create water vapor that travels through your house. Even if you’re not a tea drinker, just boiling water on the stove makes a difference. And, add a few house plants. They retain moisture and help spread it through the house.
Using Your Heating And Cooling System To Control Humidity
If your home is unusually dry or you are treating a commercial space, these home remedies won’t do the trick. The next step up is a retail-level humidifier. You know, the kind you buy at a drug store and plug in.
These are inexpensive and easy to use, but they’re not all that powerful. You’ll move the needle a little in one room, but that’s it.
To really do the job, you can invest in a whole-home humidifier. Essentially, these work the same as the plug-in ones. But, they’re much more powerful and far-reaching.
With these, a professional installs the humidifier directly to your heating and cooling system. Now, you’re treating every room your ductwork and vents reach. And, it turns on and off by itself, just like your furnace and central AC.
More Indoor Air Quality Solutions
Humidity control is one of the most powerful ways to improve your indoor air quality. But, it’s far from the only one. You can also upgrade your air filter or invest in an air purifier that treats your entire home.
We’ve got more information on those here and here.
HVAC Service In York, PA
You’ve got a lot of powerful options to keep the air in your York, PA home, or business clean. But, we don’t recommend running out and getting them all installed! That can be costly and unnecessary in some cases.
Instead, start by giving Your Air Comfort a call or email. After gathering some important information about the space you’re looking to treat, we’ll help you develop an indoor air quality strategy that’s just right for you.