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Do You Need To Buy a Humidifier or Dehumidifier To Protect Your Flooring

Updated on July 21, 2015

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Many articles giving advice on ideal levels for humidity for hardwood and strand woven bamboo flooring are misleading because they don't explain the science properly.

There are three key terms to consider:

  • Absolute humidity
  • Relative humidity
  • Dew point

Absolute humidity is measured in grams per cubic meter. It refers to how much water a cubic meter of air can hold at a certain temperature. The higher the air temperature the higher the absolute humidity because there is more heat energy to maintain water in the air as water vapor.

Relative humidity is expressed as a percentage of absolute humidity. Thus 90% relative humidity means that the air contains 90% of the maximum amount of water vapor that it is capable of holding.

The dew point is when absolute humidity reaches 100% then (supposing air pressure is constant) when the air temperature drops then the absolute humidity drops and the air can hold less water. At this point water vapor condenses and becomes water.

Manufacturers of hardwood flooring and strand woven bamboo flooring tell consumers that the ideal relative humidity range for their products is between 30% and 60%. They don't, however, relate this range to absolute humidity. For example, in London, UK, the humidity remains over 70%. In January the average humidity in the morning in London is 86%. Does that mean your hardwood or bamboo flooring is at risk of absorbing too much water from the atmosphere and swelling and warping? Does that mean people in London need dehumidifiers in every room? No it doesn't on both accounts.

The average temperature in London rarely exceeds 21 degrees centigrade. At this temperature the absolute humidity is only 23 grams of water per cubic meter. Compare this to a hotter city like Bangkok with temperatures often over 30 degrees centigrade. The absolute humidity in this temperature range is 30.4 grams per cubic meter. That's over 7 grams per cubic meter in difference. Multiply this difference by the volume of a room and you can see how much extra water is involved. In short this ideal relative humidity range is meaningless without information about absolute humidity and room temperature.

Rather than relying on spurious scientific data to decide whether you need a dehumidifier to regulate the water levels in the air of your rooms where hardwood floors and bamboo floors are laid, it is much more effective to use your common sense.

If you are sweating a lot in the summer then it is more than likely it is because the area you are living in is prone to high humidity. The places with the highest humidity in the USA is in the southern states such as Missouri. If it is hot but not sweaty like in Texas and Arizona then the humidity is low. Being next to a big body of water such as a lake or the sea increases humidity. By contrast being in a dry environment such as a desert produces lower humidity levels. Southern and eastern Asia has the highest levels of humidity. Cities such as Bangkok (Thailand), Manila (the Philippines), Kolkata (India) and Kuala Lumpur (Singapore) have the highest amount of water vapor in the air.

If your flooring is made from a natural product such as wood or bamboo then prolonged exposure to high levels of absolute humidity can damage the flooring. The wood or bamboo absorbs the water and swells. There are a number of precautions you can take to prevent this happening without buying a dehumidifier.

The simplest thing to do is to turn on the air conditioner unit. This will suck out the water laden air from the room. Another thing to do is to turn on the extractor fans in the toilet and the kitchen. This also removes a lot of air that is high in water vapor. Another tactic is to turn on the heating. This increases the absolute humidity of the room and avoids the dew point when water vapor condenses. Another method is to simply open the windows and allow a breeze to blow through the house thus preventing water condensing on your flooring.

If none of these options are available to you and it is very hot and sweaty where you live then you should consider buying a dehumidifier. The dehumidifier with the best reviews on Amazon is the Soleus Air 40 pint or 70 pint dehumidifier. It is quiet and not too heavy and has three settings.

The opposite scenario is when there is not enough water in the air. This dries out your hardwood or strand woven bamboo flooring and leads to cracking. People also complain that low absolute humidity causes dry skin and respiratory problems. Most people manage just fine with low humidity. Using moisturizer creams helps. For your flooring the bigger problem with cold and damp climates is allowing the dampness onto your flooring. It is best to keep a room well heated to prevent damp.

If you worry that you use too much heating and the water levels in the air are dangerously low than as with high absolute humidity and relative humidity scenarios the best thing to do is to open the windows. Airing your house will increase the water levels in the air. If you feel dryness is still a problem then put a kettle of boiling water on a stove. The steam given off will increase the humidity in the room.

Only if you feel none of the above can prevent damaging dryness levels in the air is it worth investing in a humidifier.


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