Battling Winter’s Wrath: How to Manage Dry Air Indoors
Understanding how to manage dry air ensures you, your guests and tenants remain healthy and happy.
As beautiful as winter months in the Midwest are, there are a few seasonal pitfalls. Of course, we all think of frightful frigid weather outdoors, but the warm and cozy indoors offer drawbacks as well – primarily dry air.
The key to keeping a home warm, but not dry, is humidity. Relative humidity is defined as the amount of water content in the air surrounding us. High humidity means the air is saturated with water, while low humidity means the air is nearly devoid of water. Temperature and climate affect humidity as well, so during the colder months in the Midwest, frigid air holds less moisture, resulting in dry air.
Lower Humidity Means Higher Levels of Illness
Low humidity in winter causes our skin to dry out, crack and break. It chaps our lips, wreaks havoc on our hair and it’s even painful to breathe. Dry air is behind this discomfort, but even more concerning is our increased susceptibility to illness.
Skin is the body’s largest organ and it serves a vital purpose. Healthy skin protects us from illness by providing a physical barrier. Our skin insulates our internal organs from all the nasty germs, bacteria and allergens floating around.
The mucus membranes in our nasal cavities and throats are another primary defense against pathogens. Mucus contains an enzyme that breaks down the cell walls of bacteria, but the mucus membranes must remain moist to be effective. In wintertime cold, dry air depletes protective mucus from our mouths and noses, leaving us more susceptible to illness. Not very pleasant!
Ever wonder why people seem to get sick more frequently during the colder months? A big contributor to this is lowered immunity due to dry air. Dry air mixed with a generally decreased exposure to vitamin D (sunlight), lowered activity levels, and being cooped up indoors is the perfect recipe for a winter cold. While there is technically no such thing as “flu season”, it’s no surprise that, given all these different factors, our bodies and immune systems take a bigger beating in the cold winter months.
Along with dry air outdoors, building owners everywhere are turning on their heating systems. These systems have been sitting idle and literally gathering dust for several months while not in use. When heating systems are fired up in fall or winter they tend to kick up dust, dirt and other small particulates which are then blown around our homes and businesses. The addition of dust into an environment means more coughing, sneezing, allergy attacks and general discomfort!
And don’t forget about the static electricity occurring in the winter months. Static electricity usually catches everyone by surprise and is never a pleasant experience. Again, this is caused by dry air which acts as an insulator. Humidity in the air will lower the incidence of static shocks and hair that stands on end.
Understanding how to manage the effects of dry air ensures you, your guests and tenants remain healthy, comfortable and happy. Here are some key ways to manage dry air indoors so you, your guests, or your tenants stay battle-ready against winter’s wrath.
Consider Using Hygrometers & Humidifiers
As the owner of a hotel, apartment or senior center, you don’t want guests or tenants to associate your building with uncomfortable, irritated skin, sore throats and dry eyes – especially when this problem is easily avoided by installing a humidifier to increase the humidity level in the air.
But before installing a humidifier, consider buying a hygrometer to measure the humidity levels in the building. Hygrometers can be found at many home improvement or electronics stores.
There is some debate about the ideal level of relative humidity for human comfort, but most people agree it should fall between 30% and 55%. Below 30% you will start to run into the problems listed above, but a relative humidity above 55% means indoor spaces start to become a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. Keep in mind, in winter the indoor relative humidity can fall below 15%, which is considered very low.
If your hygrometer gives you a reading below 30%, look into installing into several humidifiers or an industrial humidifier system for your hotel, apartment building or senior center. Humidifiers come in many sizes and are equipped with various options including a built-in hygrometer, automatic shut-off and UV germicidal lights that will kill any waterborne bacteria or pathogens.
Who should consider installing a humidifier or series of humidifiers?
- Senior Facilities with older populations at increased risk for illness and infection and respiratory issues.
- Hotels concerned with the comfort and overall health of their guests. Hotel owners could also consider keeping a supply of small room humidifiers on hand to offer guests on an as-needed basis.
- Apartment Buildings wishing to keep tenants comfortable and happy.
Proper air moisture levels also protect the wood furnishings in your building by reducing the risk of the wood cracking and warping from low humidity exposure. Preserve the life of your wooden furniture, fixtures and structural elements by ensure proper levels of relative humidity.
Don’t forget: humidifiers require maintenance too!
Humidifiers, like all equipment, need a bit of tending. The two main elements to remember is to change the filter on your humidifier every 1-2 months and give your humidifier a periodic cleaning. Add this to your regularly scheduled maintenance to ensure the long life of your humidifier.
Stay Up-to-Date on Your HVAC System Cleaning
Having your HVAC system cleaned provides two major benefits:
- A savings in your energy bill because a system free of junk and debris works better and requires less energy.
- An improvement in indoor air quality from the removal of contaminants lurking in your ducts.
While energy savings are always important to a business’s bottom line, it’s the improvement to indoor air quality that will impact customer or tenants in the wintertime. Your ductwork could be full of pet dander, dust, chemicals and many other air pollutants – especially if you haven’t had your HVAC system cleaned in a long time (or ever). Getting rid of contaminants that can cause illness is a benefit to everyone.
Skin Appreciates Soft Water
To further complicate the issue, naturally drier air during the colder months also aggravates issues that arise with hard water. One of biggest problems with hard water in the winter is it dries out and damages skin, regardless of relative humidity levels in the air. Showering in hard water, then drying off in a low humidity environment is harsh on already irritated and dry skin, accelerate existing conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.
So, while maintaining the correct humidity levels of your hotel, apartment building or senior care facility is important, don’t forget about your water softener. To maintain consistently soft water, it’s best to keep your salt level at least half-full at all times, without overfilling.
Don’t own a softener? You should look into getting one – there are many benefits to softer water. If you’re unsure of how hard your water is to start, or if you own a softener and want to ensure it is functioning properly, pick up a water test from your local hardware store. To determine where your results fall, check with your local city resources for an average. Soft water has zero grains of hardness (measured in Grains per Gallon or GPG), which is only achieved by using a softening system. Any GPG number above zero is technically considered hard water, but 10 GPG and above is considered very hard water and requires softening.
Hard water is rough on equipment too due to mineral particles left behind from the water, which leave a residue that will build up over time. This includes the humidifiers used to keep your relative humidity levels above 30%. Check to ensure you are using softened water in your humidifiers. Many manufacturers will recommend using distilled water to ensure they perform well for many years.
Hard water can also seriously damage your water heater and requires more energy to heat, so it’s important to check the age and efficiency of your water heater, especially if you don’t have a softening system in place yet. If you’re using an older model, or even a standard model, it may be time for preventative maintenance. Ask about the possibility of switching to a high-efficiency water heater, which will save you money in the long term.
Keep Winter’s Bite at Bay
The winter months are tough on our bodies and our buildings, but there are plenty of steps to protect both against winter’s bite. It all starts with increasing the humidity and air quality, while examining your HVAC and water systems in your building.
Since we can’t control the atmosphere outside, we must figure out how to control the atmosphere inside. Staying on top of your water softener maintenance is the easy part. Finding a good central humidifier is a simple solution to guarantee improvements to the air quality in your hotel or apartment building. Increasing the comfort level of your guests and tenants is good business practice, and will likely gain your business positive reviews and happy patrons. Keep your building and tenants healthy this winter!