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High Humidity

The Silent Threat: How Humidity Harms Buildings and How Dehumidifiers Can Save the Day

A silent but significant threat to the structural integrity of any building is humidity. It is often overlooked as part of the building maintenance. While its impact on the health and comfort of people is well-known, its negative effects on the buildings are often unknown until it is too late. Humidity has many adverse effects on a building, from weakened foundations to mold growth which we will explore further below. What can you do to mediate these issues. Believe it or not a simple but effective solution may be adding dehumidifiers to the building, which can play a crucial role in preserving the longevity of homes and businesses.

How Does Humidity Affect the Foundation?high humidity building

When the building has a high humidity level for a long period of time, the excess moisture can wreak havoc on a building’s foundation. One potential issue is excessive moisture in the soil surrounding a building which can lead to soil expanding and exerting excess pressure on the foundation walls. Over a period of time, this pressure can cause cracks to form leading to structural integrity problems that can be very costly to repair. Also, when the foundation has prolonged exposure to moisture concrete or masonry tends to weaken, making it more susceptible to erosion and degradation.

For example, there are areas of the US, especially around the coast, that experience long periods of high humidity. If the home or business has high humidity for a long period of time and is not resolved, cracks could form allowing additional moisture to seep in and cause more damage.

Signs that you may be experiencing structural issues

  • Difficulty opening doors and windows.
  • Cracking in walls.
  • Sagging floors.
  • Mold growth.
  • Gaps between walls and the ceiling.
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Not only can high humidity wreak havoc on the foundation, but it can also cause problems with the structure, especially if the building is made with lumber.

High Humidity Can Do Damage to the Building StructureBuilding Humidity Damage

Humidity, unfortunately, doesn’t discriminate when it comes to building materials. Besides concrete, materials such as wood, metal, and drywall can all be damaged with prolonged exposure to high humidity levels. Homes and businesses that are primarily made from wood are particularly at risk, as moisture tends to cause the wood to swell, warp, or rot. Metal components, such as support beams or reinforcements, are prone to corrosion in humid environments, leading to structural weakening. Other metal components in the home, like doorknobs and hinges can rust and become harder to use. Most drywall is not made to withstand high level of moisture.

When drywall is exposed to high levels of moisture, you could experience any of the following

  • Mold and mildew can grow behind the wall causing dangerous spores to float through the home.
  • Swelling or warping making the wall look uneven.
  • Unsightly stains on the walls that are not easy to cover with paint.
  • Degrade the joint compound allowing the seams to show.
  • Sagging or collapsing if the integrity of the gypsum is compromised.

One example of how high humidity may pose a hazard for a building is the case of a warehouse with poor ventilation and no humidity control, where wooden beams are constantly exposed to high humidity levels. Over time, the moisture that is absorbed into the wood can start to swell, warp or decay. When wood deteriorates, its load-bearing capacity is compromised, posing a safety hazard to the entire building. This degradation of wooden beams can increase the risk of collapses or structural failures, especially under adverse weather conditions.

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High Humidity Can lead to Mold and Mildew GrowthHumidity ceiling damage

Humidity is well known as a catalyst for mold and mildew growth, both of which pose serious health risks to occupants and can cause extensive damage to buildings. Basements, attics, and bathrooms tend to be the most likely place for mold to thrive, since they tend to be more damp and poorly ventilated areas of the home or business. If the mold or mildew is allowed to grow and spread, then it can compromise the building structure and release harmful spores into the air, making the inhabitants sick.

Some of the symptoms someone might experience being exposed to mold

  • Respiratory Issues including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or tightness of the chest
  • Nasal and sinus congestion – Breathing in mold particles can irritate nose and throat.
  • Skin irritation – Direct contact with mold can lead to itching, redness or rash.
  • Eye irritation – Spores can cause redness, itching, tearing and sensitivity to light.
  • Fatigue and headache – Mold exposure may cause fatigue, flu-like symptoms and headaches and more. According to an abstract from the National Library of Medicine, in a study of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), 48% of the patients had a history of mold allergy and/or chronic sinusitis. They go on to say that there is an association between CFS and sick building syndrome (SBS).

High Moisture in the Air Can Compromise Insulation

Insulation can also be compromised by high humidity which in turn reduces its ability to insulate the home or business and therefore is less energy efficient. In buildings with high moisture, the insulation can become saturated and therefore is unable to trap heat efficiently. As you can imagine, this leads to increased energy consumption as HVAC has to work harder to maintain the desired temperature. Additionally, damp insulation is more susceptible to mold growth, further exacerbating indoor air quality issues.

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Adding a Dehumidifier May Be All You Need

Simply put dehumidifiers removes the moisture in the air to an acceptable level thereby mitigating the risk of structural damage, mold growth, and insulation issues. Although dehumidifiers are not widely used, they should be a part of most homes and businesses, especially in high humid areas such as the Southeast, Gulf Coast, Mid-Atlantic, Southern California, Hawaii, or any other area where humidity is an issue. There are two main types of dehumidifiers. The first is a whole house dehumidifier. These are typically installed in the mechanical room and hook into the duct work and manage the humidity for an entire section of the home. The second option is a portable unit which can be placed anywhere in the home and covers a smaller area. Some may ask how I choose between a whole house dehumidifier or a portable dehumidifier. We have an entire blog on this topic, What is a Dehumidifier and why do you need one? Whether you decide to install one in the basement, crawl space, or HVAC system, you are making a smart choice to protect the integrity of home or business.

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