Just like the Joker is to Batman, humidity is the enemy in your home. If you live in Arkansas, you know that humidity makes a hot day miserable – but did you know there are other problems that come along with humid air? Humidity is airborne water and when it hits a cold surface, like your windows or vents, it causes condensation. Just like your ice-cold beverage sweats, the same thing occurs in your home.
The truth of the matter is that temperature is easy to control, humidity is not. In Arkansas, 30% of your electricity is used to remove humidity from the air. However, if your air conditioner is incorrectly sized, it can increase the humidity inside the home. This can lead to issues like dust mites, mold and mildew, rust on vents, leaky duct systems and even warping of your flooring and doors.
Bigger is better, right? The short answer is no. Having an over-sized air conditioner results in having too much capacity for the area it is trying to cool, and generating too much cool air into the space in a short amount of time. It does an excellent job of cooling the space but does not run long enough to remove the humidity from inside the home and this will cause it to “kick on and off” repeatedly, which is also known as short cycling.
Want to save the planet or just reduce your electricity bills? From an energy efficiency stand point, one of the worst things that can happen is for the air conditioner to short cycle throughout the day. It takes much more energy to start an air conditioner than it does to keep it running, resulting in elevated electric bills. The longer the air conditioner runs, the more humidity it removes, making the air drier inside the space. Humid air inside the home heats up and cools down faster than dry air does. The drier the air is, the longer it takes to heat back up, preventing your air conditioner from short cycling. Dry air is much more comfortable than damp air, and will allow you to turn up your thermostat a few degrees. This will cause the air conditioner to cycle less and make you more comfortable. The ideal humidity level inside a home is between 30% and 50%, while the average home in Arkansas has about 70% humidity during the summer, which makes energy efficiency to go down and comfort issues go up.
What can be done?
First things first, everyone should have an Energy Efficiency Audit completed on their home to determine the best humidity control method. Far and away, the best thing to do is invest in a variable speed air conditioner. In this climate, most air conditioners are over-sized so that they can keep a house cool when heat becomes the most extreme. While it does get hot in Arkansas, the 110-degree days are limited, and rarely do we need all of the capacity that our single stage air conditioners provide because we have more 80-degree days than 110-degree days.
Variable speed air conditioners only use the capacity needed at any given time. In fact, as they get close to the set temperature in the house they slow down so that it keeps running for de-humidification. With a variable speed unit, not only do you set your desired temperature but also your desired humidity level as well. With the humidity control in place we can usually downsize the air conditioner from what is currently being used, saving the home owner even more on the expense.
There are ways to control humidity with smart thermostats or an actual dehumidifier, but there are often other factors that contribute to high humidity inside a home and those can only be determined through pressure diagnostics when a residential energy efficiency audit is completed.
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Chris Kell – RESNET Certified HERS Rater | BPI Building Analyst | Energy Star 3.1 Certified