If COVID-19 has done anything, it has brought indoor air quality to the forefront of everyone’s minds. Whether it be a single-family household, school, or even a grocery store, all of those spaces need clean, high-quality air — which humidification plays a role in. According to Catherine McMurray, product manager at Johnson Controls, allergens, dust mites, and molds are given the opportunity to thrive when indoor relative humidity (RH) is above 60%. This, in turn, can trigger asthma, allergies, and respiratory infections, she added.
“At Johnson Controls, whole-home humidification system sales, including add-on sales to existing systems, have continued to increase since 2021,” McMurray explained. “We foresee that this trend will continue to increase as the pandemic subsides.”
She said that proper home humidity actually goes far beyond IAQ, noting that many people mistake humidity for temperature. McMurray said insufficient humidity can make inhabitants feel colder, which leads to thermostats being turned up higher than necessary. The same is true in reverse, and both cases can cause increased energy costs. She added that high humidity can also negatively affect wood flooring, cabinets, furniture, and other home fixtures, as the moisture can create a breeding ground for mold. On the other end, Mindy Wetzel, senior category manager – humidification at AprilAire, said dry air can allow virus particles to float around more freely.
“Really, the sweet spot is at roughly 40 to 60% RH,” Wetzel explained.
She added that finding that “sweet spot” is a balancing act, but when a homeowner finds it, it can reap many benefits. Proper humidity can remedy bloody noses, red eyes, itchy skin, and dry coughs, among other health concerns, said Wetzel.
business development manager – commercial building controls, Honeywell
Keeping the Trend Alive
While the humidification market definitely skyrocketed during the pandemic, Wetzel said it is starting to slow down to a more reasonable growth rate. She noted that although the interest in IAQ is still present among homeowners as more people venture back into the real world, post-pandemic, the need for home improvements is not as urgent as it used to be.
Factors other than the pandemic can affect the demand for humidifying and dehumidifying products — the need can be seasonal. Wetzel said cold weather in the winter is often the cause of a spike in demand for humidifiers, while the summer months bring in business for dehumidifiers.
Smart device capabilities also bring in consumers, said Wetzel, as people have started to realize that they want more control over their homes. Hossam Rasheed, senior product manager – IAQ at Resideo, said the interest in smart controls goes across the board.
“Traditionally, when you have a humidistat in your home, you're supposed to keep tabs on the outside air. During the really cold snaps, you're actually supposed to lower the set point on the humidifier to eliminate the risk of condensation buildup,” Rasheed explained. “If you have that controller in the basement or somewhere that is ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ it's not easy to remember to do that.”
He added that when it comes to replacing filters on air conditioning units, people can see the dirty filter, which helps them understand when to change it. Humidity, however, is not as easily visualized, so providing awareness to homeowners is key. When it comes to smart products and humidistats, Rasheed said some products monitor the outside air temperature automatically, which adds a lot of value to consumers.
Rasheed said humidification and dehumidification are only one part of the IAQ equation though — filtration, air purification, and ventilation are all crucial aspects.
Grant Salmon, business development manager – commercial building controls at Honeywell, emphasized that IAQ is not only a concern for homeowners, but for the commercial market as well.
“As a result of improved indoor air quality, there are studies that are showing 10-15% increases in test scores in the K-12 space in classrooms with optimized IAQ conditions,” said Salmon. “I don't think that this is going away — we're probably just at the start of indoor air quality really being considered a major design parameter for new builds moving forward.”
He noted that not all facilities are built the same, and older buildings with less insulation in their walls and windows are more prone to condensation building up if RH is raised. In the end, Salmon said the decision to add humidification to a building has to be looked at holistically, which requires expertise and time.
While he admitted that HVAC upgrades within commercial spaces have slowed down as buildings reoccupy post-pandemic, Salmon predicted that there will be a next phase of improvements. As smart controls take over, having connected humidification systems will allow commercial spaces to integrate these tools into their building control platforms.
“Give somebody a dashboard view that can actually drill into the performance of the humidification or dehumidification equipment that you've installed,” said Salmon. “There is so much kind of richness in that data.”