How to Control Moisture and Humidity in the Home
Moisture keeps your skin fresh and plump, but, sadly, it’s not doing your home any favors. In fact, according to Steve Worsley, owner of CNC Contractor Services, a mold consultation and mitigation firm, excessive moisture is the most destructive of all home defects.
“Moisture intrusion can cause structural settling and/or a mold infestation,” he says.
So where does all that moisture come from—and how can you treat it and prevent problems from seeping in again?
Where moisture originates
Unfortunately, there’s a long list of circumstances that can cause a moisture problem.
“It commonly comes from plumbing leaks, ice dams, damaged roofs, gutters, downspouts, and groundwater seeping up through the foundation,” says Robert Weitz, founder of RTK Environmental Group, an environmental testing firm in the New York tristate area.
Humidity and improper ventilation frequently occur in the bathroom.
“Not properly venting a bathroom after a shower or bath can cause moisture issues,” says Julie Dibbell, franchise owner of AdvantaClean in Gastonia, NC.
Even your hard-working dryer can be a source of moisture. The air from the dryer should go outside through the dryer vent pipe; however, it can become loose over time.
“The moist air needs to go somewhere, and if it doesn’t go out, it will escape inside your home, where it can cause mold and mildew buildup,” says Jason Kapica, president of Dryer Vent Wizard.
Symptoms of moisture problems
While many of the signs of moisture problems may be obvious, others are not so apparent.
“Common indications of moisture problems and water damage include warped or cracked flooring, soft spots on the floor, and water rings on walls or the ceiling,” says Peter Duncanson, disaster restoration expert at ServiceMaster Restore.
In the laundry room, if you see a lot of lint or if the room is humid or steamy, that’s a sign that something is not properly connected, and air is escaping into the laundry room.
A change in your indoor air quality is another sign that you have moisture problems. You may notice a musty smell, indicative of mold or mildew.
“You may also experience health symptoms, including sneezing, headaches, runny or stuffy nose, itchy eyes, cough, postnasal drip, or wheezing,” says Weitz.
In fact, the health implications can be troubling; mold and mildew can contribute to allergies and asthma.
The best method for controlling moisture will depend on the source of the problem. Oftentimes you will need to fix the cause of the excess moisture—like defective plumbing or a leaky roof—before dealing with the actual moisture damage. Worsley says a professional with an infrared camera can help you see what’s happening behind the walls and get to the root of the problem.
One tool that you can use yourself, however, is a dehumidifier. According to Weitz, it’s the first line of defense.
“Be sure to set the humidity no higher than 50% to ensure that you are drawing enough moisture out of the air,” he advises.
Another way to prevent moisture buildup is by preventing other types of buildup.
“Make sure all gutters are free of debris and water is flowing away from your house,” says Dibbell. “If your home has a crawl space, a proper vapor barrier should be installed in the area—you should not be able to see the ground,” he says.
Making sure the air inside your home is circulating can also prevent excess moisture. Keep your AC fan set on “auto,” instead of the “on” setting. The latter increases the level of humidity in your home.
“In rooms that are small or don’t have air conditioning, ensure that they have ventilation to keep air circulating,” says Craig Ricks Jr., president of Acadian Windows and Siding, a residential construction company in Kenner, LA. “You can also limit excess moisture created by daily activities by turning on stovetop fans when cooking and by taking shorter showers,” he says.
But if you don’t want to limit how long you spend in showers, Dibbell recommends running the bathroom exhaust fan for 20 minutes after you take a shower or bath.
You can also check the flaps on your dryer vent cover to ensure they’re opening on the outside.
“If they’re not opening on the outside, it means the air from the dryer is not exiting, which could indicate a disconnection,” says Kapica.
A dryer vent clog could also cause moisture. “These clogs can cause water to pool inside your dryer vent, which can lead to mold growth in your laundry room,” he explains.
In addition, be sure to let ample fresh air blow through your home by opening the doors and windows regularly.
“This can have a tremendous effect in removing moisture—sometimes, all a home needs is some fresh air to detox the moist air,” says Marla Mock, vice president of operations at Aire Serv, a heating and air-conditioning company.
Treating moisture damage
Once you have the excess moisture under control, you need to treat and repair all moisture-damaged areas.
“The components affected and the amount of moisture will dictate the steps required,” says Worsley. He recommends a dehumidifier, and says it is the most common piece of equipment used after a serious moisture intrusion event.
If you don’t have a dehumidifier, Ricks advises homeowners to open the windows and turn on a fan to dry out the damaged areas.
Here’s the thing: Time is of the essence, and if the humidity isn’t addressed in a proper manner, he says a mold infestation is likely.
“Mold reproduces within 48 hours after moisture intrusion,” Ricks says.
When building materials such as Sheetrock and insulation have been moisture-damaged, Worsley says, they should be removed and disposed of.
Weitz agrees that if mold has formed on drywall, it should be removed.
“Wood structures can usually be cleaned and sealed with an anti-microbial sealant,” he says. “Boxes, toys, carpeting, and any other cellulose materials are very susceptible to mold growth.”
If you can’t dry them within 24 hours, he recommends discarding these objects.
“Carpet will likely need to be completely replaced, given the moisture buildup can lead to mold,” says Duncanson. Due to the potential health risks, he recommends using restoration professionals instead of trying to tackle this type of project on your own.
If you’re unsure if there’s still more moisture in your house, Ricks recommends calling a pro who can use a moisture meter to check that your home is dry.