It’s that time of year again, when colder temperatures and dry heat cause dry, cracked skin and even nose bleeds! Low humidity levels are to blame, and over time, these symptoms can lead to serious health problems. Low humidity in winter can increase the risk of infections like the flu.

What is the ideal indoor humidity?

Winter is not the only season with humidity levels leading to health problems. In the hot, summer months, high humidity can cause mold, fungus and dust mites to thrive. People with allergies, who may need to escape the outdoor pollen, may become sicker indoors with these particles in the closed air.

Optimum humidity is often thought to be a personal preference, though it is important to maintain certain levels to avoid the health risks. Ideally indoor levels of water vapor, or humidity, should fall between 40 and 60%.

Beyond health issues, dry air can cause damage to non-living things in the house, including flooring, art, electronics, plaster and paint. Maintaining an optimum humidity level through a household humidifier can protect against cracks and damage to the contents of the home.

Should you use a humidifier?

A humidifier can help maintain the optimum humidity levels to prevent infections, and curb bacterial growth. Recent medical studies have shown that bacteria and viruses, like the common cold, cannot spread in humidity levels of over 45%. Researchers think this is due to the air being too thick – and it explains why people do not get as many illnesses during the summer months with higher humidity.

Some areas have naturally ideal humidity levels. Unfortunately in Florida, and much of the eastern United States, humidity levels can vary from over 90% in the height of summer to under 50% in the cold, winter months.

Many small, tabletop varieties of humidifiers are available from many big box stores or online. These products are ideal for occasional use such as during a sinus infection. They take a gallon or two of water, turn it into water vapor – hot or cold depending on the model – and mist it into a room. These products are adequate for a small area, but do not give much control on the humidity level.

To truly benefit from optimum humidity levels, consider an appliance that connects to the house’s HVAC system and monitors and regulates the humidity continuously. Household humidifiers work with existing heating and cooling units to regulate indoor humidity levels. The water vapor is pushed through the heating ducts, and the humidity levels are monitored and regulated at the thermostat. This systems allows an even and controlled level of moisture throughout the house whenever it is needed.

In the colder winter months, cranking up the temperature is not the best way to feel warmer. Air with extremely low humidity cannot “catch” the heat, and the energy costs will climb unless the humidity is optimized. Adding a household humidifier allows the air to feel warmer at a lower temperature, leading to direct savings on the heating and electrical bill.