In this age of modern climate control, you should be able to achieve the Goldilocks treatment in your own home and make things "just right". But that means more than not-too-hot and not-too-cold; to control your environment to your liking, you'll also need to control the humidity level.
Air conditioners and furnaces do much of this work for you, but sometimes you need a little extra help in the moisture control department, especially in certain spaces or during extreme summer or winter weather. Using humidifiers and dehumidifiers strategically can help you live healthier and take better care of your home.
The Numbers Game
The key to maintaining an ideal humidity level in your home is to know the relative humidity, which is the level of water vapor in the air expressed as a percentage of the saturation point. In most cases, relative humidity of 30 to 50 percent is optimal for health and sensitive home materials like wood and drywall. The best way to monitor the relative humidity throughout your home is to purchase a hygrometer; low-tech digital models generally work well and can be purchased at most hardware stores for under $20.
If you live in a temperate climate, you may see the relative humidity swing outside of the optimal range during the winter and summer. With your furnace running in the winter, it can dry out your indoor air below 30 percent. And during the most humid days of summer, relative humidity can top 60 percent. In particularly arid or humid climates, you may only need a humidifier or dehumidifier, but not both.
Balance Everything Out
When humidity levels get out of whack, the first place you might notice a change is in your personal health. Dry air can aggravate skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis and chapped lips, whereas moist air can promote the growth of mold and mildew, which can lead to respiratory problems and more serious illnesses.
Excessive dryness won't produce odors, but moisture will often make rooms smell dank and musty. And these conditions can also damage your home over time -- dry air can cause some types of wood to crack and splinter, while humid air may cause it to warp. And mold development will often require total replacement of the infested material.
If you need extra humidity for health purposes, you can use an affordable, portable humidifier that suits your space and decor. If your humidity needs are primarily to protect your household materials, you may need to invest in a whole-home system that integrates with your HVAC equipment.
There are also whole-home dehumidifiers that may come in handy in especially humid environments, but a well-maintained central air conditioning system should cover most moisture control issues. If your hygrometer tells you that you need help in damp areas like basements, bathrooms and laundry rooms, you can buy a portable version, but take care to size it to your space and dampness level.
Still not sure what you need? Contact your local HVAC experts to inspect your home and present you with an array of options.