In a home office or working from home situation, you are taking on the responsibilities of being Facilities Manager and OH&S Officer for yourself and your family. That means looking after your own best interests, from physical environment and workstation set up, to exercise breaks and air quality, including temperature … and humidity. Your health and work performance depends on it.
What is Humidity?
Humidity refers to the amount of water vapor in the air. The recommended indoor humidity level is between 30-50%, a range in which most people feel comfortable or, importantly, aren’t aware of any discomfort. Outside this range and humidity (high or low) can affect your health, wellbeing, and productivity.
You mainly notice high humidity when you start to perspire, but it can also have adverse effects for allergy sufferers and asthmatics. Damp air inside your home also encourages mold, mildew and dust mites. Low humidity, or dry air, can affect your eyes, nose and skin and also exacerbate some respiratory problems. Airborne viruses can also live longer in dry air.
In summer months, when the air is warm and holds more moisture, humidity is generally higher. Your energy can wane, it may be hard to sleep and you can feel lethargic, especially if dehydration becomes a problem. Using air conditioners, exhaust fans or dehumidifiers indoors helps remove this moisture to comfortable levels.
During winter, when the air is cold and holds less moisture, humidity is lower, especially if you’re heating your home. This is when humidifiers and house plants can help balance humidity.
Humidity at Home
Whether your home office is a dedicated study/room or a commandeered corner, the year-round climate where you live and the type of house you live in as well as your office set up will be important factors.
Humidity is separate from temperature, so if you live in a temperate climate you may not need to spend as much on electricity to maintain your workspace in that comfortable humidity range. Dressing warmly in winter and lightly in summer helps your body adjust for humidity rather than just react to temperature.
A well-insulated and ventilated home office can minimize the need for (and cost of) heating and cooling an open plan space, but it may not be the healthiest option. To maintain the 30-50% humidity range, the size of the room, orientation of windows, air flow and access to fresh air as well as heating and cooling options are considerations.
Measuring Humidity at Home
Indoor humidity can be measured with a digital or analog hygrometer. There are hygrometer apps for smart phones, but these often use outdoor sensors and are not designed to monitor individual room indoor humidity.
If your humidity readings are consistently too high or too low, you can then take steps to control the moisture in the air. If you are using heating, humidity is likely to be low. Using air conditioning also dries air when humidity is high.
Managing Home Office Humidity
Comfort and cost are both important for a home office. Heating or air conditioning both affect temperature and lower humidity, but proper insulation and simple fixes can lessen the need for both.
With windows, you need to be able to manage direct sun and radiant heat in summer and heat loss through glass in winter. Double glazing and appropriate window coverings (blinds, louvres, or curtains) need to be considered. Fresh air is the best ventilation, though draughts can be a problem.
House plants are often used as a barometer or guide to help with monitoring humidity. In low humidity (not low temperature), you’ll be watering them more often. Plants lose moisture into the air (transpiration) when the air is dry and humidity is low, but can absorb some when it’s high. However, you’d need a lot of plants to notice any significant effect on your indoor humidity at home. Large leaf plants generally transpire more than smaller plants or succulents.
For low humidity and dry air, a humidifier is perhaps the best immediate solution. Humidifiers are machines that periodically pump water mist/vapor into the air. Types and functions of humidifiers vary, so you’ll need one that works for your particular requirements, room size and budget. Choosing one that runs only when it’s needed will avoid the risks of over humidifying. Humidifiers and their water tanks need to be regularly cleaned.
Creating an ideal environment for your home office includes managing humidity levels. Make it a priority for your health and productivity.
About the Author
Olivia Pearson is the editor and curator of Love Light & Inspiration – an online resource for women working from home. Encouraging improved home office environments is a health and productivity issue. Breathe easy.