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Getting to grips with relative humidity

Stacey Lucas, commercial and marketing director at smart sensor provider Sontay gives insight into the relative humidity (RH) sensor, highlighting three examples where measuring and controlling RH are completely essential.

There is a myriad of sensors on the market which are designed to be the extra pair of hands that take care of building performance and occupant comfort.

One sensor in particular that is crucial to the overall operation of factories, commercial spaces and healthcare environments is RH sensor, a common device used to measure temperature in order to determine relative humidity.

The rise of RH

High or low humidity can cause both apparent and unnoticeable effects on a building’s fabric and the people occupying it. If it’s too much, occupants can find themselves with a pulsing headache, too little and they may experience eye irritation and general discomfort.

People aren’t the only ones affected by high or low humidity levels. In terms of our places of work or leisure, an excess of humidity can affect the fabric, causing condensation, mildew and other pesky contaminants such as mould. It is why when creating the optimum indoor conditions, a recommended RH of 40-60% is acceptable in many buildings.

To calculate RH, the live humidity reading at a given temperature should be compared to the maximum amount of humidity for air at the same temperature. The calculation of RH therefore, helps establish a comfortable environment for all.

But it isn’t simply sufficient enough to establish RH, it has to be continually monitored. Three examples of environments where this control is crucial include factories or production plants, commercial offices and hospitals.

In a manufacturing facility, it is vital to keep the relative humidity within a controlled range to maintain operation of the equipment and the quality of what is being manufactured. An example would be a print shop where the process relies on the humidity being kept at a consistent level to ensure the ink dries in the correct time frame, and the paper does not stick together in the machine and cause jams.

For commercial office environments, controlling RH has a significant effect on occupancy comfort and productivity. Even if the temperature of the workspace is controlled, it will still feel very uncomfortable for occupants if the humidity is too high or low. A survey by Remark Group, an advocate of workplace wellbeing, entitled ‘Air Quality and Wellbeing at Work’ highlights that out of 1,000 UK office workers, 80% thought poor indoor air quality affected their health and productivity. Although some offices are not at 100% capacity, many employers are encouraging people to return to the office on a flexible basis. When they do, maintaining a happy indoor medium for employees will be crucial to their wellbeing. This type of environment is, generally speaking, a prerequisite given humans spend 90% of their time in indoors.

Case study: Dammam Medical Tower

Hospital environments require close control of many ambient conditions. RH is one of these aspects that is important to monitor in critical areas.

Maintaining close control of room humidity in isolated areas of a hospital is vital to patient’s health. In these spaces high humidity can contribute to bacteria growth. Studies show that when cold, dry air is warmed once indoors, RH drops by 20%. Such a decrease makes it easier for airborne particles, including viruses, to travel.

Dammam Medical Tower is a 400-bed hospital based in Dammam, the sixth-most populated city in Saudi Arabia and capital of the country’s Eastern Province. As part of a recent refurbishment, 40 isolation rooms were introduced to the hospital in order to cope with an increase in COVID-19 patients.

An effective control strategy, therefore, was required to combat detrimental changes in air humidity within the Dammam Medical Tower’s isolation rooms. Sontay had just the solution. Its space mounted RH and temperature (RH&T) sensors use the latest high-accuracy technology to improve and maintain a healthy indoors environment.

The RH&T sensors were installed to monitor humidity and temperature in the isolation rooms. As well as being renowned for their accurate and reliable function, The sensors are quick and simple to install. This contributed to their specification for the Dammam Medical Tower, as the hospital required a temperature and humidity monitoring solution with some urgency due to the growing COVID crisis.

The products are covered by a five-year warranty which is considered to be particularly important to clients in countries outside of the UK.

With the presence of the sensors, Dammam Medical Tower’s isolation rooms were provided with easy-to-install temperature and humidity sensors at a crucial time during the coronavirus crisis. These provided precise and constant air regulation in 40 isolation rooms designed to rehabilitate COVID-19 patients whilst keeping other areas of the hospital infection-free.

Monitoring and controlling humidity levels in critical areas are essential to creating a safe, optimum environment for all. Although us humans would like to think we have the time and capability to ensure these spaces are as healthy as possible, in reality these environments require such a high-level monitoring that it simply goes beyond our control. It is why the small sensors are on the market to be our extra pair of hands, positively contributing to the overall condition and operation of our people and buildings.

7 July 2021

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