Humidity: How It Can Affect Facilities and What to Do About It

by ManagerPlus on July 31, 2013

Recent years have seen record setting temperatures—both high and low—across the globe, posing unique challenges for facility managers. Temperature alone, however, can be a superficial measure of facility climate. Humidity is as important as raw temperature data for facility managers, as moisture levels that are too high or too low can cause serious problems for the people, machines and products associated with facilities. Facility managers must maintain humidity levels to ensure that people are comfortable and safe from toxic molds and slick floors and surfaces. Machines and products must also be protected from damaging extremes of temperature and moisture in order to extend their useful life and prevent dangerous, costly malfunctions.

Here are a few checks and tips for regulating humidity:

+ What to look for. Managers should be sure to include routine checks for cracks and other openings that may be allowing air to flow into facilities and alter humidity levels. Maintenance staff should note condensation on windows, mold on walls and in corners, and musty smells, as these can all be signs of excess humidity. Hygrometers can also be installed to measure relative humidity levels in rooms. These checks are quick and simple, and can easily be added to existing routine inspections. Maintenance software with detailed asset tracking, inspections and work history make it easy to ensure that these checks are being performed in a timely, consistent manner.

Humidity levels should generally stay in the 35-45% range for most facilities, though recent extreme fluctuations in temperatures and weather patterns have made the regulation of these levels more difficult. Adding extra HVAC checks to facility preventive maintenance routines can help prevent serious problems, such as toxic mold accumulation, from developing.

+ If humidity is too high, a dehumidifier can bring it back down. These devices are most effective when placed in basements, bathrooms, and other areas where there is likely to be extra moisture in the air. Bringing humidity down to a comfortable range can have an appreciable effect on worker and tenant morale in facilities by helping reduce allergy symptoms and preventing more serious respiratory problems from developing.

If a dehumidifier proves too expensive, simply running the air conditioner can help lower humidity levels, though this may ultimately end up costing more than a dehumidifier in the long run. Vapor from hot water can increase humidity, so keep running water (showers, sinks, washers) cold and limit use as much as possible. If the humidity problem is severe, however, these measures may not be sufficient. With temperatures expected to continue to rise in coming years, it may be a good idea to consider investing in a dehumidifier sooner rather than later.

+ If humidity is too low, a number of solutions exist to raise humidity in dry climates. For environments where low humidity could damage products and machines, overhead misting systems can be installed that add moisture to the air. The moisture produced by these systems typically evaporates quickly, preventing water from accumulating on equipment and products.

If a misting system is too large or expensive, a simple humidifier is likely the best option. If aesthetics and atmosphere are a concern, a water feature such as a tabletop fountain can contribute moisture to the air, as well as serve as decoration.

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