Let’s explore moisture in the home so you know why it matters, what to look for, and how you can keep a dry, healthy home!
Why Should You Keep Your Home Dry?There are many reasons why you should control moisture in the home, but they generally relate to two issues: the quality of your health and the quality of your home.
If moisture levels are high in your living space, you have an increased chance of bacterial growth, as well as the growth of pests like mice and cockroaches. Bacteria causes obvious health concerns, but so do pests, which carry diseases and leave allergens (including dander and droppings) around the house.
Mold growth is one of the most important concerns for homeowners, especially for anyone who has mold allergies. Like all lifeforms, mold needs food and water to grow, but this particular fungus is extremely resourceful about how it gets both. Mold can literally take water from the air to survive, so if you have high humidity or dampness in the home, it could be allowing mold to grow. By reducing moisture levels with a dehumidifier, (especially one that uses UV technology) you don’t necessarily guarantee mold will disappear, but you do make it harder for this fungus to survive.
Whether the health issues are caused by mold, bacteria, or another issue, the results can be frightening. Respiratory issues are more common for people who live in damp environments. Moisture in the air, as well as microscopic bacteria and fungus, can be breathed into the mouth, throat, and lungs, leading to many issues with your health. There has even been a study that found a connection between living in a damp home and the increased chances for asthma. These are not the only respiratory problems associated with asthma; other issues include bronchitis, difficulties with breathing, and chest pains.
There are also speculations that damp air could create problems with eczema. A review of scientific literature from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found a connection between this skin condition, among many other conditions, and the increase in household moisture.
Another risk is the chance of sickness that could take the form of fever. When you have increased moisture, there is a chance you could experience more cases of high body temperatures, body aches, and pains, due to a condition called “humidifier fever.” This condition is described in a 2009 scientific review from the World Health Organization. (See “4.2.4. Inhalation Fever”)
The previous issues dealt with your personal health, but high moisture levels can also harm the health of your home. High levels of moisture can cause paint to swell, drywall to become soggy (and moldy), and carpets to become damp. Moisture can impact the quality of the wood in your home and can even negatively impact wooden furniture. If you have wood flooring, you certainly want to make sure that your home has consistent moisture levels, as dampness can cause warping or discoloration.
How Can You Tell if Your Home is Not Dry Enough?So, we now understand why we should keep our home dry, but do we may not know what to look for. What are the signs that tell us if our homes have too much moisture in the air or if there is a leak of some type?
As we described, dampness can lead to mold, so if you have a damp home, you may have a musty smell throughout the entire house. You may also see mold or mildew growing on walls, especially in dark areas such as the basement.
If the moisture levels are high, you could see staining of wall coverings, or there could be peeling of wallpaper or even blistering in the paint. Dark patches and damp walls are also signs that your home is not dry enough.
At the extreme level, you could have decaying wood in the house caused by excessive rotting, or even the presence of wood-boring insects.
One sign of moisture is fairly hard to spot, but it’s a good indicator. Look at the nails and screws that are exposed in your home or basement. If they are starting to rust, it’s a clue that the moisture levels may be too high.
Other possible signs include the appearance of salt stains on the outside walls, and exposed mortar could begin to crumble.
Sources of Moisture in Your HomeSo where is all this moisture coming from? Generally speaking, the water can come from either a source inside the home (a pipe leak, for example) or leaking through a gap on the exterior of the home (a crease at a window, for example).
Windows and doors are a common place for water to leak into the home. If you have moisture, you’ll want to start by checking your windows and doors for signs of significant water damage or leaking. Peeling paint can be a sign of leaks, but you should also look near the windows for discoloration in the paint. You could also see swelling in the window frames.
Broken seals in your plumbing and appliances are also ways that water can leak into the home. When your appliances are installed, the contractor likely put a seal around all water connections; over the years these seals can break or wear down, so if you notice condensation or puddles near your appliances, be sure to check the seals.
Clogged lines can also cause significant problems with moisture. A clogged drain can lead to overflowing and even burst pipes. Be sure that all of your lines are properly cleaned so you have a clear flow of water through the pipes.
The roof can also be a problem for leaking. If the roof is old and the shingles are worn, you may have an issue with leaking in the near future, if you don’t already. Leaks are common around chimneys, where seals can be broken. They can also occur near plumbing vents and attic vents.
Like the roof, if the foundation is old it could be causing leaks. Make sure any cracks or breaks in the foundation are sealed properly and examine any location where the pipes and wiring extend through the outside walls, as this could be a leak location. Even if there is no leak currently, it may not hurt to seal these areas.
Tips for Keeping Your Home DryWe know that moisture in the home is bad for our health and the quality of our houses, and we know where water is likely to come from, but what can we actually do about it? While moisture can create a significant problem, there are, fortunately, many steps we can take to prevent water damage in our houses.
Seal, Seal, SealThere can be many areas where moisture can penetrate, but two areas of concern are the attic and the basement, and sealing both of these locations is paramount for controlling moisture.
Sealing the AtticGo into the attic and check for holes or air leaks where moisture may be able to penetrate. Make sure there is enough insulation to prevent interior heat from escaping, which can cause ice dams that create even more moisture issues. Ice dams can cause ice and snow to become backed up, eventually leaking or seeping into the home.
Sealing the BasementTo have a properly-sealed home, you have to have a properly-sealed basement. This often means taking steps to seal the foundation itself, and it can include tarring the outside of the foundation (which requires exposing the walls) and seal cracks on the inside. You’ll also want to make sure all the windows and doors are properly sealed. There should be built-up barriers and flood shields, and your sump pump should work properly.
Re-roof Your HomeIf your roof is old, it can be the most common source for water damage and leaks. Don’t let a bad roof become an expensive problem down the road; roofing might be costly now, but the costs of repairing water damage can be much more. While water seepage is an obvious sign that a new roof is needed, you may also see signs from the outside. Curling shingle edges, for example, are a sign of outdated material. Cracks, bald spots, and damage to the shingles are all signs that the roof may need to be replaced. Generally, if you have shingles that are 20 years old or older, it’s time to have them replaced.
FlashingFlashing is one of the most simple and effective steps you can take to reduce the overall chances of moisture leaking into your home. These thin metal strips can be placed around doors, windows, thresholds, and chimneys, preventing water from leaking through these susceptible areas. Any place where two different building surfaces meet should have flashing of some type to prevent moisture in the home.
VentsVentilation helps move moisture through the home, reducing the chances that it will become a problem. Vents can be found all over, but they will likely be needed in the attic. If you experience high humidity (more on this below), you can simply add temporary ventilation by opening a window. (Sometimes the simple solutions are the best!)
Some appliances will also need proper ventilation. For example, you will likely need proper ventilation for the clothes dryer, which will move moisture from the clothing into the outside.
To cleanup mold follow these tips.
Measure and Maintain the HumidityProper humidity is an important part of having a healthy home with good air quality. Humidity levels throughout the home should be about 30 to 50%. You can tell if you have high humidity through a few specific signs, including condensation on the window, stains from wetness, and musty smells in the home. You can check for dampness in areas where air does not usually circulate, such as back bedrooms or closets.
To reduce moisture, you can use a dehumidifier, which will actively remove water from the air and trap it in a container. Just be sure to empty the container or it could overflow. Unattended dehumidifiers can also have mold growth, so empty the water often.
Using bathroom exhausts will also remove moisture from damp bathrooms. These fixtures pull air upward and vent it to the outside, and while they are commonly associated with removing offensive odors, they can also be used for removing moisture.
Many people turn off their heating or air conditioning when they leave for a trip. While this may seem like a smart practice, if you have moisture issues it can be a mistake. HVAC systems help keep air moving through the home, which will help to reduce moisture issues.
Proper LandscapingThis is related to basement seepage. Your home needs proper landscaping to ensure that water does not leak into the foundation. Landscaping should ease downward from the home so water rolls away from the foundation; if you have water pooling near the foundation, it can eventually seep into the home.
Final Thought: Don’t Over Dry the HomeWe’d like to give you one last reminder about home moisture, and that’s to not over-dry your home. This might seem contradictory; after all, we just spent the entire article talking about the dangers of too much moisture. However, if you over-dry your home, you can have issues as well.
When using a dehumidifier, you don’t want to go overboard. If humidity is too low, you can have problems with static electricity, dry skin, and the chance for increased susceptibility to colds and respiratory issues.
Low moisture levels can also cause cracking and damage to wood, including wood floors, furniture, and the millwork or molding you have in the home.
You certainly want to keep out leaks and seepage, but just be careful to not over-dry your home through the use of a dehumidifier.
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