7 Ways to Cut the Dry Air in Your Home This Winter

Avoid the problems that come with dry air by considering these tricks to increase humidity in your home.

U.S. News & World Report

7 Ways to Cut the Dry Air in Your Home This Winter

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When the air is too dry

The colder weather is here, and the heat is on at home. But with the natural drop in humidity levels during winter, the dry, heated air inside can create an uncomfortable atmosphere. Common complaints of dry air are allergy and asthma problems, sinus congestion, dry skin, sore throat and nose bleeds. Stewart Unsdorfer, owner of Central Heating & Air Conditioning Co. in Cleveland, says humidity levels below 25 percent could benefit from adding water vapor to the air. If you’re worried about humidity levels at home, get a hygrometer – “It’s just like a thermometer that gives humidity readings,” Unsdorfer says – and weigh these seven options to help relieve your wintertime dry air woes.

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Find the drafts.

Key to curing any air issues inside your home in winter is to first seal up the spots where cold air can leak in from outside. Add weatherstripping around windows and doors, and use a foam sealant around gaps in the wall around pipes or ducts that lead outside. Your basement in particular likely has places where air is leaking in surrounding the dryer vent and along the interior surface of the sill plate – the first piece of lumber in contact with the foundation. If sealed properly, “you’ll probably reduce air leakiness by [about] a third,” says Gary Parsons, a fellow at Dow Building Solutions, which makes products for both new construction and existing buildings.

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When the air is too dry

The colder weather is here, and the heat is on at home. But with the natural drop in humidity levels during winter, the dry, heated air inside can create an uncomfortable atmosphere. Common complaints of dry air are allergy and asthma problems, sinus congestion, dry skin, sore throat and nose bleeds. Stewart Unsdorfer, owner of Central Heating & Air Conditioning Co. in Cleveland, says humidity levels below 25 percent could benefit from adding water vapor to the air. If you’re worried about humidity levels at home, get a hygrometer – “It’s just like a thermometer that gives humidity readings,” Unsdorfer says – and weigh these seven options to help relieve your wintertime dry air woes.

Find the drafts.

Key to curing any air issues inside your home in winter is to first seal up the spots where cold air can leak in from outside. Add weatherstripping around windows and doors, and use a foam sealant around gaps in the wall around pipes or ducts that lead outside. Your basement in particular likely has places where air is leaking in surrounding the dryer vent and along the interior surface of the sill plate – the first piece of lumber in contact with the foundation. If sealed properly, “you’ll probably reduce air leakiness by [about] a third,” says Gary Parsons, a fellow at Dow Building Solutions, which makes products for both new construction and existing buildings.

Stovetop steam

As a nod to the days when coal and wood stoves were the primary source of heat in a home, an open pot of water or kettle on your stove can help get more water vapor into the air. Homes that have a wood- or coal-burning stove as an extra heating source can use the additional surface area to increase humidity. Cast-iron steamers and kettles meant for the old stove style will heat water and release water vapor into the air while you have the stove on, helping you save on central heating costs. A variety of steamers and kettles are offered at Target, L.L. Bean and Plow & Hearth, and they range from $25 to $100. Of course, a hot stove and boiling water should never be left unattended, so only use this method while you’re in the room.

Whole-house humidifiers

If you live in a house with uncomfortable levels of dry air, you’ll likely benefit from a humidifier that connects with the home’s HVAC system, Unsdorfer says. “When it gets below maybe 20 percent relative humidity inside the house, it could benefit from a whole-house humidifier," he says. As the weather outside fluctuates, you’ll need to adjust humidity levels in the home to avoid too much moisture, since a colder temperature outside means you should lower the level in the home. Otherwise, too much humidity relative to the outside can result in condensation where the warm air hits a cold surface – on windows, for example. If you’re not able to keep an eye on humidity levels at home, Unsdorfer doesn’t recommend a whole-house humidifier.

Portable humidifier

The single-room humidifier can serve as a suitable alternative when you’re not able to keep up with a whole-house humidifier. You can simply refill a tabletop humidifier with tap water to help even out humidity levels in an apartment or room. These smaller humidifiers are often a better option for rental homes, Unsdorfer says. Depending on the size and brand, in-room humidifiers can cost as low at $25 and reach more than $150.

Air dry everything.

A great way to reduce energy usage in winter and help release more water vapor in the air at home is to stop using your dryer and hang your clothes on drying racks inside the house. If your home is notoriously dry, your clothes will probably be ready for folding in an hour or two, and they’ll have helped add some humidity to the air temporarily. Remember, however, that you should air-dry the clothes in open spaces throughout the house. If you keep drying racks in a closed off part of the basement, Unsdorfer notes, “you’ll end up with a musty room.”

Add to the radiator.

If you live in an older home or apartment building with steam-heat radiators in each room, help increase the humidity by placing a tank or tub of water on the radiator itself. The water, heated by the radiator, will add water vapor to the air over time and can easily be refilled with tap water. Home improvement companies like Kontrol and Snow Joe make specially designed humidifier tanks that can be secured to a radiator for less than $10. But placing a pot, tub or bowl that won’t risk breaking on top of a radiator is another viable option.

Bring in some greenery.

“Having a lot of house plants also increases the humidity and the indoor air quality of the home,” Unsdorfer says. Plants help increase humidity in the air through the transpiration process, which is the movement of water through the plant itself. However, if the air is below 30 percent humidity to begin with, some plants may have a hard time surviving because they're suited for much more humid conditions. Be sure to stick to recommended watering frequency based on the type of plant you bring into your home to help it thrive.

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