Throughout winter, most homeowners in Denver, CO constantly run their heaters. Not only does this beat back the winter chill and keep residents safe, comfortable, and healthy, but it also keeps indoor and outdoor pipes from freezing. Unfortunately, the extended use of residential heaters often leads to overly dry indoor air. With no moisture to weigh them down, dust motes, pet hairs, and other allergens float around indefinitely. Dry air can also cause nasal and sinus irritation, itchy, irritated eyes, and persistent coughs. To help you combat this all-too-common issue, the following is everything you need to know about optimizing humidity support from your HVAC system.
Understand Your HVAC System’s Role in Humidity Control
The average, relative humidity in Denver is between 30% and 42% throughout the year. Compared to other regions, this is fairly low. When there’s less moisture outdoors, there’s usually less moisture indoors too. To protect those living in your home and your home itself, it’s best to keep your indoor humidity between 40% and 50% year-round.
During the summer months, this is easy. With moderate to low humidity outside, there’s less risk of having condensation-covered windows and drywall, moldy indoor surfaces, and structural damages like warping and wood rot. In summer, you also have the ongoing humidity control provided by your heat pump or air conditioner. These units extract excess moisture to keep building interiors from feeling damp, oppressive, and muggy and maintain prime operating conditions.
Your Furnace Cannot Add Moisture to Your Home
While condensing furnaces provide limited humidity control by extracting excess moisture, these appliances cannot add moisture to indoor air. In fact, apart from swamp coolers, no HVAC equipment types are capable of doing so. Not only are furnaces incapable of adding moisture, but they’re also notorious for extracting it.
With outdoor moisture levels already lower than the recommended humidity for building interiors, this could leave your living space excessively dry. Dry indoor air causes multiple forms of progressive building damage, including:
- Squeaky floors and sub-floors
- Cracked paint
- Split boards
- Plaster damage
Excessively dry air can also take a toll on your personal items, including many high-value collectibles. Insufficient moisture leaves books with wrinkled, brittle pages, creates tuning issues with cellos, pianos, violins, and other musical instruments, and splits and cracks leather furnishings. If you have wood furniture throughout your home or cherished, wood-framed photos, dry air can cause these things to warp and crack as well.
The Health Effects of Dry Indoor Air
Many people suffer congestion or recurring, nighttime nosebleeds when sleeping with the heater on. However, apart from drying your nasal passages out, dry air has a significant impact on many of your body’s most critical functions. For instance, dry air hinders the cleansing abilities of mucous membranes which makes them less effective at fending off invading organisms. Thus, in the winter months, when heaters are running non-stop and building interiors are increasingly dry, residents have a greater likelihood of both catching and sharing communicable illnesses.
As everyone’s mucous membranes dry out and become more permeable for viruses, bacteria, and germs, residents could contend with sore throats, chest congestion, frequent bouts of coughing, and more. Even when they aren’t sick, dry indoor air can make the people in your home wheeze, sneeze, and exhibit other forms of respiratory distress.
Start With Proper Furnace Maintenance
Drier air is dirtier than air that has the right amount of moisture. With more dust and other airborne particulates floating around, you should ramp up your air filter replacement schedule. Although homeowners are advised to inspect these components monthly and swap them out every 30 to 90 days, you should inspect your air filter every two to three weeks and replace it every one to two months as needed.
It’s also important to schedule a pre-season furnace tune-up. In addition to replacing worn parts, testing safety features, and calibrating thermostats, our technicians clean heaters both inside and out. This also minimizes airborne debris, but more importantly, it optimizes furnace performance. With your heating system operating at peak levels all of the time, you may have to run it less to get the job done. You should also have your air ducts inspected, maintained, and cleaned as needed.
Tighten Your Home’s Envelope
Another way to limit demand on your furnace is by tightening your home’s envelope. Installing weatherstripping, caulking gaps and cracks in building materials, and adding insulation will all prevent warm indoor air from escaping outside. You’ll save money on your energy bills and your furnace will run fewer heating cycles and dry your living space out far less.
Install a Smart Thermostat
Smart thermostats make it easy to limit unnecessary furnace use. In fact, according to ENERGY STAR, having one of these appliances installed could save you up to 8% on your annual heating and cooling costs. With one of these devices, you can raise or lower your temperature setting according to changes in your location and schedule. This way, your furnace isn’t running continuously and drying out your indoor air while you’re away at work or school, on vacation, or asleep. Given that they’re learning devices, smart thermostats become increasingly adept at automatically making temperature adjustments over time.
Take Advantage of Indoor Air Quality and Humidity Tracking Features
Smart thermostats also offer indoor air quality (IAQ) and humidity tracking. A smart thermostat can tell you whether your indoor humidity is far above or well below the recommended level. With the data your thermostat supplies, you’ll know when you need supplementary equipment and professional help.
Installing Whole-House Humidification Equipment
The most effective way to combat chronically dry indoor air with your HVAC system is by having a whole-house humidifier installed. Much like media filters, sanitizing UV lights, and air scrubbers, these appliances are integrated HVAC system accessories. They’re attached directly to HVAC ducting and add moisture to conditioned air just before it’s distributed.
Whole-House Humidifiers vs. Portable Humidifiers
Many homeowners attempt to alleviate their dry air symptoms by setting up portable humidifiers. These simple, bedside units add moisture to the air until their tanks are depleted. While they’re capable of providing some relief, they’re prone to developing mold and mildew on their filters. Once this occurs, all of the mist that they release is contaminated.
A portable humidifier can only add moisture to a single, limited space. Thus, purchasing one of these units won’t help all residents feel better or keep all building materials protected. Lacking sophisticated features, these units can also add too much moisture to the indoor air and cause new humidity challenges. Worst of all, the cost of purchasing a high-end portable humidifier to diminish these risks is often equal to or greater than the cost of having whole-house humidification equipment installed.
Do You Need a Whole-House Humidifier
The best way to gauge your needs for integrated HVAC system accessories is by scheduling an indoor air quality assessment. Professional IAQ testing measures indoor moisture levels, identifies airborne allergens, pathogens, and chemical contaminants, and determines the concentrations of each. The resulting data helps our technicians decide whether homeowners would be best served with building improvements, integrated humidity control, or air-cleaning technologies.
We help residents of Denver, CO and the surrounding cities maintain comfortable, healthy homes. We offer top-quality heater, air conditioner, and heat pump services. We also provide the latest and most effective IAQ improvements. To sign up for our preventative maintenance plan or schedule an IAQ and humidity assessment, get in touch with Premier Heating and Air now.