Winter here in Ontario is typically a less humid time of year. The winter air is cold and dry and our indoor air is warm and dry.
In years past, no one was too concerned with short-term seasonal humidity dips as long as indoor humidity levels stayed at 20 percent or higher.
But that all changed in early 2020 with the onset of the pandemic. From that point forward, scientists and air quality experts went on the offensive, seeking effective strategies to repel the virus and limit the threat of airborne transmission.
Even now, nearly a full year later, we still have relatively few methods with proven effectiveness for reducing viral spread. But few isn’t none. In this post, your HVAC Hamilton experts discuss one scientifically verified way to limit airborne viral transmission – humidity.
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The Link Between Indoor Air Humidity and COVID-19 Transmission
Cold doesn’t kill the virus that causes COVID-19. Heat doesn’t kill it either. And neither does humidity – at least not directly.
However, humidity does have three superpowers that are directly linked to a lower risk of COVID-19 infection:
1. Humidity decreases the lifespan of active viral droplets.
Humidity amps up the rate of decay for airborne biological matter like active COVID-19 viral droplets.
Studies have proven that virus particles suspended in the air decay more quickly in humid environments.
This in turn reduces the concentration (density) of viral particles in the air.
And it is these benefits that lead to a lower risk of you getting infected with COVID. As a side benefit, amping up indoor humidity has a similar impact on viability of viral common cold or influenza droplets.
2. Humidity decreases the distance tiny viral droplets can travel.
When the air is dry, this creates ideal conditions for airborne particles, including tiny particles carrying even tinier viral droplets, to stay airborne for longer and travel longer distances.
When the air is more humid, the particulates travel more slowly and have more difficulty in staying airborne.
This is good for you but very bad for the virus that causes COVID-19.
3. Humidity increases the human body’s mucus-making ability.
We may not like mucus very much, especially when it gives us a runny nose or internal respiratory drainage.
But mucus is a key aspect of our body’s immune system and is actually the first responder in our antiviral defence system. The mucus that lines your nasal passages is there to trap toxins and keep them from venturing further into your body.
Humidity aids mucus production, which can help the tiny hairlike cilia in your nasal passages trap COVID-19 particles and keep them from entering your lungs. As a side benefit, humidity also increases the protective properties of your skin, eyes and mucous membranes.
What all this adds up to is simple: higher humidity is good for you and bad for the virus that causes COVID-19, as well as the viruses that can cause seasonal colds and the flu.
How Much Humidity Inside Your Home Is Enough In Winter?
When we talk about humidity levels inside your home, we are talking about relative humidity. Relative humidity, or RH, is humidity that fluctuates in response to air temperature.
In general, cold air is less readily capable of holding water vapour. This means that winter air tends to be drier air.
In years past, the general recommendation was to keep the relative humidity of your indoor air at between 30 and 50 percent. This range accommodated naturally higher humidity levels in summer and naturally lower levels in winter.
Today, with what scientists have learned about slowing COVID-19 transmission, that recommendation has changed. The current recommendation is to keep your indoor humidity levels between 40 and 60 percent year-round.
NOTE: While it may be tempting to go higher, indoor humidity levels above 60 percent are not recommended as they may lead to dangerous mould and mildew growth.
How to Add Back Humidity to Your Home During Winter
At this point you are likely wondering how you can control indoor humidity levels with the types of fluctuating temperature extremes we experience here in Canada.
Our extreme Canadian winters can also present special challenges in maintaining any type of consistent indoor humidity.
What we recommend to our customers is to use a whole home humidifier.
A whole home humidification system can simplify the chore of adding back consistent amounts of moisture to your indoor air as seasonal temperatures and humidity levels fluctuate.
Whole home humidifiers also have a number of other significant benefits, including protecting wood floors and furniture, easing dry skin issues and seasonal nosebleeds, reducing asthma attacks and allergy symptoms, preventing dangerous static electricity and boosting overall immune system function.
There are two main types of whole home humidifiers: steam humidifiers and flow-through humidifiers.
Steam humidifiers add back steam moisture to your indoor air.
Flow-through humidifiers work with your furnace and air ducts to distribute moisture.
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Contact our Indoor Air Quality and HVAC Experts at Shipton’s Heating and Cooling
The global pandemic has changed so much about how we clean, sanitize and purify our indoor spaces. Here at Shipton’s, we make it our business to create custom indoor air quality packages that address all of your health concerns.
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