Central air condi tioning units help keep humidity down. (Ace Hardware)
The dog days of summer are upon us, and that means finding ways to keep your home cool during the hottest time of the year. But remember, it isn’t just the heat but also the humidity that makes us uncomfortable. That’s why you feel more comfortable when it is 85 degrees with 45 percent humidity than on that same 85-degree day with 70 percent humidity.
So the key to keeping cool is to control your indoor humidity. If you have a central air conditioning system, it is designed to keep the proper humidity level in the home by first dehumidifying the indoor air before reducing the air temperature. Ideally, you should keep the humidity level in your home below 50 percent in the summer to maximize your comfort. But to do that, you have to let your AC run and do its work. If you turn it on and off, or have the temperature set too high and close up your home, the humidity will build up, and you will feel uncomfortable.
Even if you let your central air do its job, there are areas in your home like the basement that will still be damp, and you may need to run a dehumidifier in addition to your AC. In some homes, the basements are so damp that it may require running the dehumidifier 24/7. That’s why it is important to have an EnergyStar-rated dehumidifier with an automatic humidistat that senses the moisture level in the area around the unit and shuts the unit off once the desired humidity level is reached. Because basements are also colder than the rest of the house, especially if you are running the AC, make sure you get an ultra-low temperature model.
Controlling indoor humidity is easier if you have central air, but you can still take measures to keep your home more comfortable even if you don’t have it. In those situations, you may need to have a dehumidifier in your basement and on your main floor or second floor to keep the humidity levels in check. Another way you can dehumidify your entire home without having to use two or three dehumidifiers is with a whole-house dehumidification system. Aprilaire, aprilaire.com; Sante Fe, santa-fe-products.com; and Honeywell, yourhome.honeywell.com, all offer whole-house dehumidification units. While these systems often start at $2,500, the advantage is that they can remove far more moisture than multiple portable units.
If you don’t have central air, or have an older home that doesn’t have a forced-air system, you can choose either portable or window air conditioners to keep one or two rooms cool and comfortable. Portable and window air conditioners also work to dehumidify as well as cool the room’s air. You can now find Energy Star-compliant window and portable units, but window air conditioners are cumbersome. The big advantage of a portable unit is that it can be moved from room to room when needed. Remember that most portable air conditioners need to be vented, so they’ll come with an exhaust kit to remove the hot air being extracted from the room through a window or door.
If you want to cool a couple of rooms but want a more permanent solution instead of a window or portable unit, you can install a ductless mini-split air conditioning system from manufacturers like Carrier, carrier.com; Mitsubishi Electric, mitsubishielectric.com; and Fujitsu, fujitsu-general.com. These systems feature an air handler that is mounted on the room’s wall and is connected to an outside condensing unit, enabling you to control the temperature and humidity for each room.
Of course, whether you have central air or portable units, it is a good idea to run your ceiling fans or an oscillating fan in your rooms whenever you are in them to help circulate the air and make you feel cooler.
To find out what your home’s humidity level is, you can buy a digital hygrometer at hardware stores or cigar stores and check it from room to room. Then, take the steps necessary to keep that humidity level under control so that any cooling device you use, even fans, will work better and help you feel more comfortable.
If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail email@example.com. If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536, between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The “Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.