As most of the country is covered in a cold spell, the health problems that can develop from cold, dry air may have already become apparent to you. The low temperatures and dryness of the air can make your life miserable, in much the same way that allergies can do in the spring.
Protecting indoor air quality (IAQ) can be a challenge during the cold months. During the spring, summer, and early fall, you are much more likely to keep your windows open to allow fresh air in. However, during the winter you keep your home air tight to block against the frigid air. This causes your HVAC system to circulate the air inside your house more rapidly. This can be a big problem for indoor air quality especially, if you haven't had your air ducts cleaned.
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Winter sinus problems develop when the warm blood in the capillaries within the nose functions as an air heater (your biological HVAC), so that cold air doesn't enter your lungs. A stuffy nose develops when breathing in cold, dry air. Why? Because the capillaries in your nose must swell in order to bring more blood to warm up your incoming breaths.
Further, dry air can remove moisture from mucus in your nasal passages, causing it to become thick and stuffy. These symptoms are often accompanied by other uncomfortable symptoms, like headaches and fatigue.
The problem of poor indoor air quality can be easily fixed with a properly functioning, clean HVAC system; while the air dryness can be addressed with the use of a quality humidifier.
How to Use a Humidifier the Right Way:
Humidifiers can be a wonderful addition to your home in the winter months, but they must be used properly to be effective, and more importantly, to avoid dangerous mold and bacteria. Let's look at some humidifier basics.
- Relative Humidity: Quite simply, this refers to how much humidity there is in the air, versus how much moisture the air can hold at the particular temperature. This is important, because the colder the air becomes, the less moisture it can hold. Therefore, 40% relative humidity at 40 degrees Fahrenheit will mean significantly less moisture than the same reading at 90 degrees.
- As a general rule, it's good to keep relative humidity at 40%-50%. If you turn the humidity levels higher than that, you risk moisture condensation on walls, inside air ducts, and windowsills. This can lead to development of toxic mold and bacterial growth.
- Humidifiers Get Dirty: Mineral buildup from water (and even bacterial growth inside the machine) can accumulate quickly. Therefore, it's essential to clean your humidifier weekly to maintain healthy indoor air quality. This can be accomplished with warm water and a few tablespoons of vinegar.
- Use the Right Water: Tap water contains many minerals that will be left behind once the water is expelled through vaporization. This will make humidifier maintenance difficult. Further, some of the minerals will be expelled along with the vapor, leaving a thin, white mineral coating on all surfaces throughout your house. To avoid this, only use distilled (or demineralized) water in your humidifier.
- Preventing Bacteria: Because bacteria can easily grow in still water, make sure to empty the water tank daily, when you're not using the device. Otherwise, bacteria may grow and spread through the room the next time you turn on the humidifier.
- Standalone vs. HVAC Installation: Though most households opt for an over the counter humidifier, humidifiers can also be hooked up to or inside your HVAC system. The second option is more expensive, but will produce significantly higher quality air mist. The over the counter option, on the other hand, gives you more control over device cleaning and will be cheaper to maintain.
Adding a humidifier to your household appliances can make a dramatic difference in your family's health and energy levels during winter- especially if you invest the 30-60 minutes per week to keep it clean and functioning properly.