I just moved to a new place, and I'm having trouble with the humidity (or lack thereof). Within the first few days, I realized I was waking up every morning with a dry throat, dry eyes, and pain in my back. I have electric heat, and my roommates (are from Texas, but we live in Chicago now) like to keep it cranked up high. Yesterday I came home and it was at 79 degrees!!! I bought a cool-air humidifier, and I think it's helping a little, but do you have any other tips to raise the humidity in our house? Should I buy some houseplants or something? Also — what should we keep our thermostat set to? I think anything over 72 during the winter is extreme. (But then again, I was raised in Chicago) What do you think?
To see my advice—as well as advice from a professional—just
Humidity is defined as the level of moisture in the air. It is generally recommended that a home's moisture level be maintained at between 35–45 percent, but in the Winter this can dip as low as 15 percent! It not only affects you, it can also dry out houseplants and hurt your home. There are many advantages to maintaining humidity in the air during the Winter. Warm air feels warmer and more comfortable when humidity is present; humidity can reduce static electricity problems and health issues such as bloody noses and dry, scratchy throats and eyes.
I emailed Francis Lazaro, an energy-conversation expert and auditor with the state of New Jersey, who wrote back saying "the high temperature setting inside this house is a major contributing factor for the low-humidity level and low-comfort levels. This comfort level is referred to as the Sensible Heat Factor (SHF). Clearly lowering the thermostat setting at least 5 degrees and preferably even more to 9 degrees will increase their comfort levels dramatically."
Francis also wrote a lot about psychrometrics, equilibrium, pressure-induced moisture Ffow, and other physics concepts. I'll be posting his entire answer on Team, if you're interested in reading about how air flow in houses works (I actually find it fascinating).
Along with turning down the thermostat, you may want to buy another humidifier and locate it centrally in your home to add humidity. Your landlord can also connect power humidifiers to forced air furnaces will add humidity (though in my experience, landlords rarely want to be bothered with this).
There are also some free and easy methods that will increase Winter air humidity. Instead of drying your sweaters, towels, and jeans in a dryer, hang them out to dry in your home on collapsible drying racks. If you do this around your plants, it will help them survive the dry-air temperatures as well.
You can also take glazed pots, fill them with water, and set them out in warm areas in your home. Since I'm a houseplant lover, and I know that many Casa readers are as well, consider that your plants will also be healthier in cooler air.
If your roommates complain about the colder temperatures, tell them to invest in lap blankets, sweaters, and wooly socks. It's how most cold-dwelling folks around the world get by! For more weatherization tips, Chicago and Cook County residents can turn to the wonderful nonprofit CEDA for help.
Do you have any more advice for Juliet? Leave your words of wisdom in the comments below.