Indoor humidity adds comfort in winter

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Winter weather in Kentucky tends to present challenges in the form of snow, ice and freezing temperatures.  
What isn’t talked about, though, is the discomfort caused by weather inside the home. The itch that plagues many people during winter can be the result of inside air that does not contain adequate moisture.
Low humidity levels can cause high levels of discomfort including dry skin and stuffy sinuses.
The air in a house is drier in winter because there is less moisture in the air outside. Outside air at 30 degrees Fahrenheit and 100-percent humidity will have humidity of less than 25 percent when warmed to 70 degrees by your heating system.
Many newer homes have built-in humidifiers, but often they are not maintained and do a poor job. For less than $30, a simple hygrometer gives an accurate reading of the relative humidity level in your home.  
To correct the situation, homeowners should first make sure the heating system duct work is not leaking. A tight duct system saves energy and reduces the amount of outside air coming in the house.
Look at both the supplies and the returns in the crawl space, attic or unconditioned basement.  
Second, seal any air leaks around windows, doors, electrical outlets in outside walls, and other openings to the outside. If the house has a gas furnace, check for the presence of an outside air supply directly to the furnace room. This is typical in newer homes, but may not exist in older homes.
This outside air supply reduces the amount of outside air brought into the rest of the house. If the furnace is not energy efficient, consider upgrading to a sealed combustion unit. Rated over 90 percent efficient, homeowners who purchase these units may be eligible for state and federal tax credits.  
One of the benefits of adding humidity to your home, also, is that it will feel warmer at lower heat settings.
Just remember, to keep the humidity indoors regulated at or below the  humidity outdoors. Raising the humidity in the home higher than the humidity outside will create condensation on windows and uninsulated outer walls. If the humidity level is the same indoors as out, or lower indoors than outside, you will eliminate this problem on cold surfaces.
Humidity indoors should be raised just enough to create a comfortable environment. Levels of 35 percent or less are adequate in winter.
If you have taken steps to make your home air-tight and have properly vented your furnace, but the air is still too dry, try adding houseplants to your décor.  If the problem is most noticeable at night, a small humidifier in the bedroom might do the job.
For more information contact the Trimble County Cooperative Extension Service, (502) 255-7188.

Jane Proctor is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer services. This week’s source:  Robert Fehr, Extension professor, environmental control systems.