These days, it’s hard to find a home that doesn’t have an HVAC, or a heating and cooling system that makes the indoors livable year-round. When you live somewhere with unbearable heat, like Atlanta or Phoenix, or else somewhere with abysmal cold, like Missoula or Chicago, HVAC systems are literally life-savers. However, even when temperatures are relatively temperate, humidity can be a killer — and HVAC still saves the day.
Unfortunately, humidity and HVAC systems don’t naturally get alone. In fact, all that extra moisture in the air can mess with HVAC components, creating problems that at best make the HVAC less efficient and at worst cause major structural damage to the home. If you live in a humid environment for some or all of the year, you need to know more about how humidity affects your HVAC, so you can prevent an HVAC disaster.
What Humidity Is
Simply put, humidity is water vapor in the air. It gets there through evaporation off lakes, rivers ponds and similar large water sources. When there are more sources of water for the light and heat to evaporate — and when atmospheric pressure systems keep that water vapor in place — the humidity tends to be higher.
Having water vapor in the air is both good and bad for people and modern civilization. When humidity is high, you might notice water leaking out of the air in different ways, perhaps in rain, mist or dew covering things like plants and cars. When humidity is low, your skin and hair might feel dry, and you might notice more static electricity. Extra humidity brings out bugs, helps plants grow and can make sounds and smells travel farther; a dearth of humidity makes it easier to exercise and generally more comfortable during the hotter months.
Many systems of the home are affected by humidity levels. For instance, roofing and siding can crack and crumble in low humidity or mold and rot in high humidity. The wood of your cabinets, windows and doorways might swell and stick when humidity is high. And, finally, your HVAC is impacted regardless of the humidity level.
What Humidity Does to HVAC
HVAC systems heat and cool the air that flows into and throughout homes, but that isn’t all they do. They also condition the air, which means they remove humidity to make the air more comfortable indoors. This is because humidity often cancels out the cooling effect A/Cs produce, so it is necessary to eliminate humidity before cooling in the hotter months.
When humidity levels increase, A/Cs must work harder to do their conditioning job — and any time a large appliance needs to work harder to achieve the same result, you should know that problems will arise. The harder a machine works, the more likely it is to become inefficient or break in some way, and that’s exactly what often happens with your HVAC in high humidity.
Unfortunately, low humidity also is less than ideal. When humidity drops in the winter, your home is less effective at holding onto heat, meaning you will notice the cold much more easily. As a result, your furnace or heat pump needs to work harder to keep your interior cozy.
How to Prevent Humidity Issues
A well-running HVAC is at less risk for breaking down due to humidity issues. Thus, your first step in guarding your HVAC against humidity is to schedule regular visits from HVAC professionals. You should try to schedule your check-ups for in-between humid and dry seasons; for example, if you live in WA, DC HVAC contractors should visit in the early spring before summer humidity hits, but if you live in the Pacific Northwest, a tune-up in fall is appropriate.
Next, you might consider investing in a humidifier and dehumidifier for your home. These appliances work to control the humidity, making the room more comfortable and reducing the load on your HVAC. You can invest in a largescale unit that works alongside your HVAC system, so you can control both humidity and temperature in one. Alternatively, you can get smaller units for each room, so everyone in your household can enjoy the exact amount of humidity they prefer.
HVAC systems are meant to condition the air, which means removing humidity and controlling interior temperature. However, humidity can wreak havoc on HVAC systems, regardless of whether the humidity is too high or too low. Simply put, homeowners need to pay close attention to the health of their heating and cooling systems are running and potentially pay for routine maintenance to prevent major HVAC catastrophes.
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