While the Los Angeles, CA, area isn’t nearly as dry as other parts of the country, many people here still have issues with the humidity of the air in their homes.

This issue is less pronounced in coastal areas where the air is moister, but it’s common in foothill areas where the air is usually dry. Dryness is more of an issue in the winter, and this article will explain what can make the air in your home feel too dry and what options you have for overcoming this problem.

Understanding Actual and Relative Humidity

Most homes typically don’t have any issues with low humidity during the summer, and the reason for this has to do with a factor known as relative humidity. Specific, or actual, humidity is just a measurement of the total percentage of moisture in the air. Relative humidity, on the other hand, tells you how much moisture is in the air as a percentage of the total amount of moisture it could potentially contain.

While temperature doesn’t directly influence actual humidity, relative humidity continually fluctuates as the air temperature changes. This is because warmer air can always hold much more moisture than colder air. This means that as the air temperature increases, the relative humidity decreases, even though the actual humidity stays the same. The fact that cooler air can’t hold nearly as much moisture is why winter air often tends to feel much drier than the air in the warmer, summer months.

Why Heating Your Home Makes It Feel Drier

One major misconception that many people have is that a heating system eliminates moisture from the air in a home. While it is true that heating makes the air in a home feel drier, it’s technically impossible for a heating system to dry the air out or remove moisture from it. The reason is that any moisture in the air is already evaporated and in its highest possible state, i.e., water vapor. The only way to remove any moisture from the air is through condensation, which only occurs when warm, moist air encounters a colder surface.

The main reason that heating a home makes it feel drier is simply that raising the air temperature causes its relative humidity to decrease. Even though the moisture content doesn’t change, the air still feels drier since it becomes less saturated the more its temperature rises.

The other reason that heating can make your home feel drier is that some types of heating systems tend to pull colder, drier air into the home from outside. This is especially true for conventional gas furnaces since they pull air in from the home and burn it. This causes negative air pressure inside the home, which results in air getting pulled into the house through any gaps in its exterior structure. As the drier air gets pulled inside, it leads to the actual humidity level decreasing. This in turn leads to the relative humidity decreasing even further as the air gets heated.

This issue is much less pronounced with condensing furnaces since they pull the air in that they need for the gas to burn from outside instead of just consuming air from inside. It’s also much less of an issue with heat pump systems and electric furnaces since they don’t need to consume air to work as furnaces do.

How Air Sealing Can Overcome Issues With Dry Indoor Air

Dry air is an especially common problem with older houses. Newer homes are much better constructed and use more advanced materials to ensure that the exterior structure, or “envelope,” is almost completely airtight. Older homes tend to be quite leaky and have lots of different places in the envelope where air can seep in from outside.

Sealing up as many of the gaps in a home’s exterior is an easy way to prevent it from feeling dry. This is simply because it minimizes how much cold, dry air can come in from outside to prevent the actual humidity from decreasing nearly as much.

Air sealing is a somewhat complicated process that usually needs to be done by a professional since it is almost impossible to find all the gaps in your home’s structure on your own. The process is usually done by using a smoke pencil to check for breezes and drafts in each room and inspecting the exterior of the house for any holes or cracks.

While complete air sealing is a professional job, there are some things you can do on your own. You can feel around windows or doors to see if air is leaking in. You can also check around the interior and exterior of the window and door frames to see if they need to be re-caulked or if the weather stripping needs to be replaced.

Combat Dry Winter Air With a Whole-Home Humidifier

Experts recommend trying to keep the relative humidity in your home between 30% and 50%. Anything under 30% is considered too dry, while anything above 50% is too humid and could lead to issues with condensation and possible mold growth. You can check the humidity level inside your home with a portable hygrometer, which you can usually pick up quite cheaply online or at a home improvement store.

If you find that your home tends to be too dry, the best solution for overcoming the issue is to install a whole-home humidifier. Portable humidifiers can help, but they’re not an effective solution for managing the humidity level in an entire house unless you have one running in every room. They’re also not convenient since you need to continually refill their water reservoir.

A whole-home humidifier is installed as part of a central HVAC system and also connected to the home’s plumbing, so it has a continual supply of water. There are three different types of whole-home humidifiers, but they all function by pumping moist air out into the home’s ductwork. This allows the HVAC system to circulate the moist air into every room to ensure that the entire house stays comfortable.

Some whole-home humidifiers can only work when the heating system is running. This is because they rely on the hot air that the system produces to evaporate the water inside them and release moisture into the air. The one exception to this is a steam humidifier, which uses electricity to cause the water to boil and release steam. With this type of unit, you can continue humidifying your home even when your heating system isn’t running. All you need to do is switch your thermostat so that the HVAC fan runs constantly and continues to circulate all the moisture produced by the humidifier.

If you’re looking to overcome issues with dry air in your home, JW Plumbing, Heating and Air is here to help. We specialize in home humidification and can also help you tackle any other indoor air quality issues. We’ve been helping Los Angeles area residents with all their HVAC needs since 2006. We are a top choice if you need any heating or air conditioning installation, maintenance, or repair services. For more information on your options for managing the humidity level in your home, contact us today.

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