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Summer Humidity Is Scarier Than You Think

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This time of year, it feels like summer humidity is the enemy. Here are just of few of the reasons you probably just want to spend the summer in an air conditioned room:

  • The minute you go outside, all your clothes are stuck to your body.
  • Summer humidity and hair just don’t get along.
  • In this weather, anything that gets wet stays that way.
  • Right after you get out of the shower, you feel like you need another one.
  • Crowded elevators and subways… well, you get the idea.

Nobody’s going to argue with those reasons for not being a fan of summer humidity. However, there are much scarier facts you should know about humidity and how it can affect your health.

But first, let’s take a quick look at why summer humidity makes us uncomfortable in the first place.

What is humidity and why is it worse in the summer?

Humidity is simply water in the air in a gaseous state. There are a number of ways to measure humidity, but the one most of us are concerned about is relative humidity, which is expressed as a percentage. A higher percentage means more water in the air; most of us start to feel uncomfortable when the relative humidity gets above 55 to 60 percent.

Why does a high summer humidity level make us more uncomfortable? Because humidity slows the evaporation of sweat from the skin, which is how we regulate body temperature. As temperatures get higher in the summer, we perspire more and that sweat does not evaporate as readily, so we feel hot and sticky.

How does summer humidity impact health?

According to the EPA, humidity is an important component of air quality.

The presence of high levels of water vapor in the air can cause health problems, especially breathing difficulties. In high humidity conditions, people report symptoms such as:

  • nasal congestion
  • eye irritation
  • coughs and wheezing
  • skin irritation and rashes
  • muscle cramps
  • headaches and fatigue

When humidity is allowed to linger, the situation gets worse. All that excess moisture leads to the growth of contaminants that can cause even more serious health concerns.

MOLD and mildew spores grow like wildfire in a humid environment. Exposure to mold worsen symptoms of asthma, allergies or other respiratory illnesses, and can even cause lung infections.
BACTERIA and VIRUSES that cause infections can multiply and spread when summer humidity in the house or the office gets too high.
DUST MITES are tiny insects that love a humid environment, and if you’re allergic to them, summer humidity can increase your symptoms.
CHEMICALS. High summer humidity can cause VOC levels to increase and linger in the air, particularly ozone from office copiers and formaldehyde, which can be released from building materials such as carpets and paint.

Other dangers from summer humidity

What else can high humidity do to ruin your day? Here are a few more problems you might not know humidity can cause:

Damaged electronics. Too much humidity can increase the conductivity of insulators in electronic devices, causing them to malfunction. Uncontrolled humidity can also lead to condensation forming on electronics, which can cause them to short circuit.

So be exra careful when moving your smart phone from your cold air conditioned office outside into tropical-level humidity (unless you’re lucky enough to have a waterproof phone).

Damaged furniture and décor in your home. In high humidity conditions, paintings, carpets and upholstery can be damaged by lingering moisture. Even woodwork and moldings can expand in moist conditions and become damaged. If moisture remains for a long period of time, eventually mold and mildew can damage walls, floors and ceilings.

Controlling summer humidity levels

There’s not much you can do about the humidity outdoors, short of moving to the desert. However, most of the adverse effects of summer humidity can be avoided by maintaining indoor humidity levels between 40 percent and 60 percent.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (ASHRAE) recommends 50 percent relative humidity at temperatures between 68 degrees and 78 degrees for sedentary work environments.

Business owners and homeowners alike need to take steps to control summer humidity levels to prevent illness and damage to building structures and furnishings, and also to improve comfort conditions.

MONITOR HUMIDITY LEVELS as well as temperature in your space.
CHECK FOR MUSTY ODORS, leaks and signs of water damage that can be a precursor to mold growth.
CLEAN UP ANY WATER LEAKS and remove sources of standing water in air conditioning units, on the roof and in boiler pans.
MAINTAIN YOUR AIR CONDITIONING SYSTEM. When your AC is not working properly due to design issues, repair issues or neglect, the humidity in your space can be much higher than those recommended levels. Read on to learn more about how to fix your AC and get the humidity back to normal.

Take care of your air conditioner to take care of your summer humidity problem

Right-size it. Did you know that oversized AC units often have trouble removing humidity from your space? That’s because they tend to start and stop frequently and don’t run long enough to manage humid conditions.

Oversized units are more common than you think because builders often make the mistake of assuming bigger it better. Check with a qualified HVAC professional to see if downsizing could solve your humidity issues.

Related article: New York HVAC Systems: 8 Reasons Bigger is Not Always Better

Get ventilation design correct. Especially in an office setting, ductwork layouts may no longer work effectively after a remodel. If you changed the space layout without updating your HVAC, you might want to consult an HVAC design expert.

Sometimes moving a duct run or two can make a big difference. A qualified HVAC contractor can perform an analysis of your ventilation system using ASHRAE guidelines to make sure the design is adequate for the space and building occupants.

Don’t neglect maintenance. AC preventative maintenance helps your system work more efficiently to keep summer humidity levels under control. According to OSHA, one of the most common causes of high humidity levels and poor indoor air quality is poor HVAC maintenance.

Your AC filters and belts need to be cleaned or replaced. Coils need to be cleaned to improve heat transfer. Fans and motors must be inspected and lubricated. Electrical connections need testing. It’s also important to check drains lines and pans, and remove any standing water, as well as checking refrigerant levels.

Related article: Q&A about HVAC Preventive Maintenance Contracts

Preventative maintenance contracts take care of all those issues and more, so you won’t have to worry about health concerns or bad hair days as a result of summer humidity. To learn more about choosing the right contract for your needs, get a copy of this helpful guide to HVAC Preventive Maintenance Contracts: How to Find The Right One For Your HVAC Infrastructure.

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